Study Demonstrates Ethnicity Plays a Role in Fast Food Choice

February 21, 2017

Where consumers go to grab a quick bite to eat can likely be attributed to their ethnicity. In a new study “Dining out in America” by Placed, a location analytics company, significant differences in fast food restaurant choice were found across Asian, Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian customers. According to David Shim, Chief Executive at Placed, “No single demographic trait—age, gender, income—provides the signal ethnicity does in terms of restaurant preference.” It makes sense. Food preferences are strongly influenced by one’s culture. For example, Asians shop more times per week in order to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. So, it should not be too surprising that Jamba Juice was the quick service restaurant that Asians overindexed the most on. Another example, Pollo Tropical and El Pollo Loco were the top two quick service restaurants in which Hispanic consumers overindexed. Both restaurants have menu offerings based on Caribbean and Mexican cuisine.

The proximity of a fast food restaurant to dense areas of a specific ethnic population can also be a factor in where an ethnic consumer eats fast food. Consumers of the same ethnic background tend to form enclaves in neighborhoods. A fast food restaurant within this enclave is in prime location to attract multicultural customers. Jamba Juice started out in California, the state with the most Asians, so it is no wonder it is very popular with Asian Americans. Additionally, Jamba Juice has store locations in most major Asian population hubs, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston. Similarly, Pollo Tropical was founded in Miami, one of the largest cities in terms of Hispanic population. El Pollo Loco’s first store in the U.S. opened in the heart of Los Angeles, which has a high density of Hispanic consumers.

Home country experience can also play a role in fast food preference. Jamba Juice has locations in Asia, specifically, South Korea and the Philippines. Recent Korean and Filpino immigrants familiar with Jamba Juice at home, may be more apt to try Jamba Juice in the U.S. El Pollo Loco was founded in Mexico, and it is quite possible that Mexicans who immigrate to the U.S. choose to eat at El Pollo Loco, because of their dining experiences in their home country.

For marketers of fast food restaurants who do not specialize in food that is geared toward a specific ethnicity, like El Pollo Loco, it is still possible to win the multicultural market. This is evidenced by McDonald’s aggressive Hispanic outreach. According to the study, “As the fourth largest advertiser in Spanish-language media and the largest in the food category, McDonald’s showed the strongest skew among Hispanic customers compared to Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.”

Other quick service restaurants can benefit from augmenting their general market advertising with ethnic targeted executions by following McDonald’s lead. Quick service restaurants can leverage assets they already have in order to win the appetite of more multicultural consumers. Here are just a few ways:

  • Store Locations: Trade area mapping is crucial. Knowing which ethnic segments are dominant within your trade area will dictate your multicultural strategy.
  • Food Offerings: You may already have items on your menu that are pleasing to the palates of specific ethnic groups. Take a look at your food offerings, and create campaigns around the ones that can be targeted at a specific ethnicity. To jumpstart sales, you may want to create special deals or coupons. These promotions may also be more effective around ethnic holidays and celebrations.
  • Employees: It is likely you have ethnic employees that can assist with helping you understand the audience you are targeting. Don’t hesitate to tap the language talents of these employees to help you bridge any gaps to communicating with potential multicultural customers.
  • Store Decor: Make your stores more inviting during special ethnic holidays or events. Multicultural consumers will take notice, and appreciate the extra effort to understand their culture.
  • In-Country Brand Equity: If your brand has locations outside the U.S., you may want to leverage assets from abroad. There may be creative, promotions, or programs that were successful abroad that could be repurposed in the U.S.

As proven by McDonald’s, ethnic targeted campaigns can increase consideration and favorability for quick service restaurants among multicultural consumers. Take appropriate measures to ensure that your multicultural marketing programs are respectful, relevant and not offensive. A message that resonates, and reaches the hearts and minds of your consumer will breed loyalty and create advocates for your business.