Friday, February 13, 2009

We Are Where We Prefer to Eat

McDonald’s was an important part of our lives when our kids were young. We have the entire Disney collection of toys served with Happy Meals – in fact, the toy was the whole reason my kids ate lunch some days.

But it’s been years since we’ve gone to McDonald’s. Whether we’re on a roadtrip or closer to home, we shifted our allegiance years ago. I do see (and use) Starbucks as the Third Place, after home and work. So, a recent PEW Research Center report on their Social & Demographic Trends survey results caught my eye. They asked people whether they would prefer to live in a place with more Starbucks or more McDonald’s. While some of the differences are intuitive, some surprised me.

For example, I pretty much knew or suspected that the preference for McDonald’s goes up as income and level of education go down. And I was not surprised to see that Starbucks lovers are more likely to live in the West and to say they’re liberal.

What I did find surprising was that:
  • In total, people would strongly prefer to have more McDonald’s around them than Starbucks
  • Blacks and Whites have a clear preference for McDonald’s while Hispanics are nearly evenly split between the two brands
  • 18-29 year olds strongly prefer Starbucks while all other age groups prefer McDonald’s
  • Men strongly prefer McDonald’s and women are split evenly between the two
Besides suggesting that I have an outdated image of the McDonald’s customer, what else do PEW’s findings mean? Here are a few specific thoughts:
  1. Hispanics: Starbucks has an opportunity to capitalize on its apparent strength with Hispanics. Are they doing anything about that? McDonald’s is surely trying to win them over.
  2. Millennials: Taco Bell and Burger King may resonate more with millennials than McDonald’s. As a result, McDonalds’ weakness with 18-29 year olds may be because this group voted against them rather than actually voting for Starbucks.
  3. Men: Starbucks has some shoring up to do with men. Do they know what men find lacking in the Starbucks experience? Does McDonald’s know why men prefer them to Starbucks by a 16-point margin?
More generally, it’s possible these results say more about which company’s stores people think would make a good neighbor than about where people would rather eat. While being a good neighbor doesn’t immediately generate revenue, it does build good will. And that can translate into revenue or a higher stock price over time.

Viewed in this way, the results say there is greater regard for what McDonald’s contributes to the communities it serves. Mickey D’s has been around longer, is known for its employee training, spreads the wealth through franchising opportunities, and has been more visible in the community through, for example, Ronald McDonald House. Taken together, these factors may explain why overall people would rather have more Golden Arches than Third Places in the neighborhood.

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