Fast food operators must modernise to win back younger consumers, MCA can reveal.

Falling visitor numbers and frequency levels in fast food outlets are due to a decrease in 18-34 year olds, MCA’s UK Restaurant Market 2016 report has found.

Traditional and independent fast food operators offering well-trodden cuisine like burgers, fish and chips and kebabs are losing out to the growing variety of options in the eating out market, which are more successfully engaging young and adventurous consumers.

Steve Gotham, director of Insight at MCA, said: “Our latest research suggests that declining visit frequency to fast food outlets is most severe among 18-24 year olds – traditionally a key demographic for operators. Should this be sustained, this is a worrying market dynamic for leading operators. Fast, cheap and convenient is no longer quite such a compelling combination for today’s more aware and better informed, younger adults. Issues around product quality, perceived healthiness and in-store environments are all rising in importance up their needs’ agendas.”

Despite falling participation and visit frequency, average spend in fast food restaurants rose among 18-24 year olds, thanks in part, to the attraction of contemporary outlets offering good quality food and service and an attractive environment, where they spend more on premium occasions.

MCA’s analysis found participation and frequency of visits to all restaurants increased compared to last year, with the exception of fast food restaurants.

In 2015 fast food restaurants were the most frequently visited channel on average, but they have now been matched by pub restaurants.

Elsewhere in the study, traditional fast foods were found to be losing ground, with McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King all expected to see a decrease in market share of outlets and turnover, with McDonald’s forecast to see a drop of 1.5pp in turnover share, as its growth fails to keep pace with the wider market.

Despite this, McDonald’s remains the leading UK restaurant in terms of sales and sites, with turnover expected to reach £2.1bn in 2016, while KFC is the third biggest after JD Wetherspoon with £1bn estimated for 2016.

Contemporary fast food is rapidly growing, with brands like Itsu, Five Guys, Leon, Wasabi and Tortilla gaining market share, and Five Guys alone expected to increase its market share of the fast food market from 0.8% to 1.2% this year.

However, contemporary fast food is still a relatively small part of the fast food market, with the five largest brands making up less than 5% of outlets.

  • To find out more about MCA’s market reports, cantact Sophie Barber on 01293 846 552 or by emailing