Sunday Times STLive By Generation Next, 2010-05-30

Fill'er up : Hot, salty, fast and filling - that's how the youth want their food

What's the coolest fast food in South Africa: chicken or beef? The answer is finger-lickin' good.

The competition was tight and the figures close, but this year the Generation Next survey showed South Africa's youth prefer KFC to McDonald's, 20.4% to 19.3%. This is a reversal of 2009's survey, when McDonald's pipped KFC at the post.

The outcome may strike some as surprising, said Jason Levin.

With McDonald's being one of the official sponsors of the World Cup, the brand was expected to score higher than ever on the popularity ratings.

The only age category that was not in sync with the overall results was young adults (aged 18 to 22), who showed a bias towards McDonald's (22.3%) over KFC (18.7%).

Levin suggested two reasons for this: "Young adults are primary purchasers and want bang for their bucks. They tend to be big eaters, particularly the guys, and the value proposition of the combo meals that McDonald's offers for under R30 is very appealing.

"Many young people also look for fast food on the way home after a late night of clubbing. McDonald's has many 24-hour outlets, whereas KFC does not," he said.

The tweens and teens categories showed a clear preference for KFC over McDonald's, probably because of parents' perceptions about the relative healthiness of the two foods.

"It is a common perception that chicken is healthier than beef," said Ayesha Seedat, a registered dietician with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.

"But this is only true if the chicken is skinless and not deep-fried. If you compared a processed chicken patty with a 100% pure beef patty, beef would be the better choice," Seedat said.

The perception that KFC sells only chicken and that McDonald's offers beef and chicken burgers appeals to the youth. Nicky Rawhani, 16, said: "KFC sells chicken, that's it - it is Kentucky Fried Chicken. McDonald's sells everything - it sells burgers and chicken."

Lehlonolo , 14, disagreed: "They both taste good, yes, but KFC has that oomph to it, that taste that you just can't create yourself."

Opinions varied across the age groups, with some younger kids still influenced by their parents.

Nine-year-old Abigail Sampson said: "KFC is best because you can really get the full taste of the chicken. My father told me that McDonald's food is fake."

Levin said there was a strong male preference for KFC over McDonald's across all age groups when the need for bulk is in play.

"The McDonald's value proposition of a combo meal for under R30 is appealing, but for those who can spend R40 or more, KFC offers substantially more options for a bigger meal," said Levin.

Choosing the healthier alternative when ordering fast food is becoming a little easier, with salad or coleslaw often available as an alternative to chips.

Seedat said having takeaways now and again was fine, but when it became a way of life and was coupled with other unhealthy behaviours like smoking and not exercising regularly, it could spell disaster.

Takeaway options are usually offered with deep-fried chips and a fizzy drink. This meal equates to approximately 50% of one's total energy requirement and 60% of one's total fat requirement for the day.

"If you choose to eat out more often, opt rather for places that offer healthier choices, like grilled chicken, fish, pure beef and salad.

"Choose 100% fruit juice, sugar-free fizzy drinks and low-fat milk drinks," said Seedat.

Figures from the survey show that Generation Next, South Africa's metropolitan youth are eating meals prepared at home 80.4% of the time, having takeaways 10.5%, and eating at restaurants 5.7% of the time.

The figures show that young South Africans across all age groups are still eating home-cooked food eight times more frequently than they are having takeaways, which could be seen as a good thing - assuming that the home-cooked meals are wholesome and nutritious.

The survey also shows that McDonald's decision to pour its marketing budget into backing the World Cup has not given the brand the edge it might have hoped to achieve.

"Speculatively, one would imagine that they'd have expected the gap between their closest competitor, KFC, to have widened with all their 2010 promotional efforts, but it hasn't," said Levin.

"Admittedly, our research was conducted in February, rather than during full-on World Cup fever, so the marketing fervour behind the 2010 World Cup would not yet have been at its height," he said.