It’s no secret that a premium brand perception pays off in the limited-service industry. Newly released mid-year BrandIndex rankings from YouGov, a consumer perception research service, show sandwich chains Subway and Panera Bread reign supreme in terms of positive brand buzz.
“The way we calculate these rating is we ask people if they’ve heard anything positive about the brand through advertising, news, and word of mouth, and we also ask if they’ve heard anything negative about the brand,” says Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov BrandIndex.
Subway cemented its position as No. 1 on the list long ago, but Panera Bread is a newcomer to the top five, knocking out McDonald’s and KFC, which both enjoyed positive buzz in 2013. Positive consumer buzz around Panera is on the rise, Marzilli says, and it may have something to do with the brand’s health halo.
“Given that Subway is No. 1 in the groups and has been No. 1 for a while, that may have something to do with it. [Panera] is positioned well for emerging consumer tastes,” he says. “They’re generally viewed as a player in the healthier, high-quality space within the [quick service] group.”
Wendy’s also made waves in the top five ranking this year, standing out as No. 3 and the only burger concept to make it on the list, followed by Pizza Hut and IHOP. The brand’s LTO pipeline this year included a bevvy of premium sandwiches boasting unique carries like the Bacon Portabella Melt on brioche, the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger, and the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. Marzilli says consumers may have taken to Wendy’s premium offerings because the brand has a long-standing tradition of better quality compared to competitors.
“Wendy’s, similar to Subway, has had a way of differentiating itself from burger competitors like McDonald’s and Burger King, and they’ve always had that position of higher quality,” he says. “Their attempts to skew more [fast] casual, may resonate well with consumers, whereas when McDonald’s comes out with a healthier offering, it’s viewed with a bit of skepticism among some consumers.”
Several brands, including Chipotle, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-A, saw statistically significant improvements in buzz this year over 2013. Marzilli says Taco Bell and Chipotle both amped up marketing efforts this year, but Chick-fil-A’s improvement stems from something entirely different.
“Chick-fil-A is an interesting one. A couple of year ago they were in the middle of a controversy, … and they’re now in pretty strongly positive territory,” he says. “They don’t spend heavily on advertising, and Chick-fil-A doesn’t have the same national footprint as the big players do, but they do have a very loyal consumer base.”
By Tamara Omazic