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How Fast-Food Eaters Split Along Ethnic Lines

A Burger King Whopper and french fries in Tiskilwa, Ill.

Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A Burger King Whopper and french fries in Tiskilwa, Ill.

Nothing tops ethnicity as a predictor of a diner’s taste in fast food.

Asian Americans are nearly four times more likely to visit a Jamba Juice (JMBA) than the average consumer, but less likely to visit McDonald’s (MCD), Burger King (BKW), Wendy’s (WEN), and Taco Bell (YUM), according to a report released today by Placed, a location analytics company. “Ethnicity is quantifiably in the driver’s seat when determining fast-food consumption,” says Placed Chief Executive David Shim. “No single demographic trait—age, gender, income—provides the signal that ethnicity does in terms of restaurant preference.”

The ethnic variation among chain restaurants can, in part, result from variations in location, often reflecting the geographic concentration of a chain’s restaurants. Marketing can also play a role in the ethnic gap and has been a focus of fast-food restaurants’ efforts to draw more diners from underserved groups. McDonald’s, for example, had adopted a strategy called “Leading with Ethnic Insights” that takes marketing cues from minority consumers.

Here are some of the findings from the Placed report, which is based on data from 70,000 U.S. consumers in April:

These chains get more traffic from Caucasian customers:

• Taco Johns
• Culver’s
• Tim Horton’s
• Steak ‘n Shake
• Caribou Coffee

“The listed quick-serve restaurant locations skew toward the Midwest and East Coast,” says Shim.

These chains get more traffic from Hispanic customers:

• Pollo Tropical
• El Pollo Loco
• In-N-Out Burger
• Wienerschnitzel
• Del Taco

Shim says the data for Hispanic consumers “quantifies a preference to fast-food categories that have roots in their ethnic background.”

These chains get more traffic from African American customers

• Church’s
• Checkers
• Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits
• Krystal
• Rally’s

For African American diners, the data show there are “two defined categories—chicken and burgers—in terms of fast food preference,” says Shim.

These chains get more traffic from Asian customers

• Jamba Juice
• In-N-Out Burger
• Jack In The Box
• Starbucks
• Panda Express

“This is one of the most diverse mixes of quick-serve restaurant categories based on ethnicity,” Shim says.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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