McDonald’s and Burger King just got a startling message from important customers

Person holding McDonald's bag.

Not loving it. Not having it.


There are things I think I know.

I think I know that I can jaywalk in some countries, but not others. I think I know that oat milk in coffee tastes like yogurt in tea. And I think I know that younger generations are always ahead of older generations in knowing how the world should be.

Younger generations see things to which older generations are blinkered — you know, things like the Earth may soon self-immolate, while older generations remain focused on their golf swings.

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Sometimes, though, I find myself so taken aback that I’m forced to consider the rhythms of my breath.

It happened last week when I was confronted with Piper Sandler’s latest Taking Stock With Teens survey. This is the one that always tells us teens love Apple products more and more every six months.

The latest edition, indeed, offers that 87% of American teens own an iPhone, 88% expect their next phone will be an iPhone and a scoff-worthy 31% already own an Apple Watch.

This was all a touch ho-hum. So I scanned the survey for a little more juice, and what I found was less fake blood than I expected.

More precisely, I found that teens aren’t so keen on plant-based meat, even with its realistically bloody heme ingredient.

Piper Sandler says: “Teens plan to eat less plant-based meat. Of the 14% of teens that do consume plant-based meat, 23% of teens plan to eat less plant-based meat, up from 17% in Fall 2021.”

This, of course, made me consider the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King, and their burgered brethren.

Both fast-food brands once believed that plant-based meat may have been the future. Yet recently, McDonald’s decided to abandon its McPlant project, after test results were disappointing.

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Many wondered why this might have been. The higher price, some said. The fact that the plantburgers were cooked on the same grill as the meat-based version, hence diluting the purity of the idea, others believed.

Could it also have been, though, that too many teens — considerable customers of fast-food emporia — have concluded that the plant-based meat thing just isn’t for them? Or even that it’s just another corporate money-grab? Or even that they’re not such great fans of McDonald’s and Burger King as you might believe?

In this survey, it cited Chick-fil-A as its number one restaurant, followed by Starbucks and Chipotle. (McDonald’s was fourth.)

And if you think teens don’t spend that much on eating out, this is what Piper Sandler had to say: “Restaurant spending has grown to account for an increasing portion of the broader teen wallet over time, passing positive territory in Spring 2014. Despite a flattening out during COVID, we believe teens’ preference for restaurant and dining out occasions is positioned to rebound as behavioral spending patterns normalize.”

I can’t help thinking that part of the reason why McDonald’s seems to have been right to stop with its McPlant burger — and Burger King may ultimately go the same way with its Impossible Whopper — is that these products have been very poorly marketed.

Still, the primary motivation for eating plant-based meat is, many believe, the Earth-saving aspect. Plant-based burgers are still full of calories — the Impossible Whopper has 31 fewer calories than the real meat kind — but they’re kinder to the Earth’s future.

One might have thought this would reside heavily in teen brains. This seems not to be (sufficiently) the case. Instead, many actually, positively intend to eat less plant-based meat.

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Alright, I hear you sniff, these teens actually don’t care about the environment much at all. They’ve already become fine hypocrites like their elders.

All I can offer you in rebuttal is this from Piper Sandler: “Gen Z is known to be a conscious generation, and teens this fall cited the environment as their top concern. 53% of consumers consider carbon footprint when making purchase decisions.”

Go figure. And when you’ve done figuring enough that you’ve figured it out, please let me know.

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