Kids these days would rather spend their bucks at Starbucks than on the latest fashion. Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual teen spending survey shows that, once again, America’s youth would rather invest in a casual meal with friends than in a killer wardrobe to impress their peers at school.
CNBC noted that this trend first began picking up steam in 2014, with food and fashion spend remaining neck and neck among teens from upper-income families (ones with a household income of $100,000, on average), and food surpassing fashion among those from average-income families (ones with a household income around $56,000).
Analysts believe this is a result of teens’ perception that food is a less discretionary spending category than clothing and other nice-to-haves, such as makeup and video games.
With the 2018 spring survey, Piper Jaffray found that teens from upper-income families were spending 24 percent of their money on food — 4 percent more than on clothing. Those in average-income families spent 21 percent of their cash on food — 2 percent more than they spent on clothing.
Athletic and streetwear fashion categories did see growth, and a 1990s revival has pushed brands such as Champion and Tommy Hilfiger back into the spotlight — although Vans and Supreme continue to sizzle as Nike and Ralph Lauren continue to fizzle.
However, the survey made it clear that for most U.S. adolescents today, the real sizzle isn’t what’s on their feet — it’s what’s on their plate.
Generation Z, of which current teenagers are a part, is the future of spending and represents an even larger cohort than millennials (consumers in their mid-20s to mid-30s), so brands would be wise to crack the code on what makes them crack open their wallets.
Starbucks remains comfortably at the top of teens’ preferred dining list once again, making it a top investment recommendation for 2018. Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s have all jockeyed for the No. 1 position over the 17 years that the survey has been conducted, but Starbucks has been a distinct mainstay for teens in both upper- and average-income families.
The popularity of these fast-casual and quick-service restaurants (QSRs) is indicative of an overall preference shift within the dining category. While the teens of 10 years ago preferred full-service restaurants (57 percent), today’s youth (65 percent) would rather eat somewhere that requires limited interaction with waitstaff, somewhere they are free to hang out as long as they want and/or take their food on the road when they feel like it.
Two-thirds of teen dining spend took place at dinner, while lunch accounted for a much smaller 20 percent and breakfast comprised only 2 percent. In part, this may be due to the evolution of dining out as a social tradition and form of entertainment. It probably also has something to do with the fact that teens are in school at breakfast and lunchtime most days.
Thus, don’t be surprised to see fast-casual and QSR chains start to introduce or highlight dinner options, at least in teen-oriented marketing materials.
Starbucks is certainly aware of its standing as not just a coffee shop, but a fast-casual destination for either a quick sit-down meal or a grab-and-go experience. In recent years, it has introduced more and more sandwiches, evolving beyond the breakfast egg-based offerings into chicken and turkey cold cuts and paninis, as well as salads and bento boxes.
Overall teen spend is up 6 percent from the fall and 2 percent from last spring, with beauty and video games rounding out the top categories dominating teens’ wallets.
The Piper Jaffray Taking Stock With Teens survey is conducted twice a year among 6,000 teens with an average age of 16.4 years.