Industry News | January 16, 2014 | QSR Exclusive Brief

What Burger Brands Can Learn from Sandwiches

2013 Quick Service Restaurant Benchmark Study Empathica Inc.
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The burger segment could learn a thing or two from its more malleable brother, the sandwich. Despite the surge of better-burger companies, consumers are not as satisfied with burger brands as they are sandwich concepts, according to a quick-service restaurant benchmark study from Empathica Inc., a Mindshare Technologies company.

“I think there’s been a renaissance of the burger industry. We all grew up with McDonald’s and the like, and there’s been this repressed need to have great burgers like the way we make them at home with gourmet fixings,” says Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica. Despite that renaissance, he says, burger brands ranked worse across a variety of aspects examined in the study, including perhaps the two most important industry factors: speed and value. The benchmark study found consumers are 29 percent more satisfied with the speed of sandwich brands and overall satisfaction with that segment was higher by a margin of 19 percent.

“I think you find more innovation in sandwiches,” Edwards says. “That’s partially because there’s more you can do with sandwiches.”

Firehouse Subs, Schlotzsky’s, and Panera Bread were the top three ranking sandwich brands in the study, which also broke down consumer preference by gender, age, ethnicity, and geographic region. The study also measured the various drivers of satisfaction, with taste, portion size, and preparation most regarded by consumers.

“I think the top-ranking brands play with the model a little bit,” Edwards says. “Brands are showing that this isn’t just a packaged good, there’s an experience that surrounds it. The brands that have been above the market are those making small tweaks to that experience.”

In the burger segment, consumers ranked taste, food temperature, and preparation as the most important factors, and the brands that seem to satisfy most across the board are In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and Whataburger. Edwards cites innovation and the creation of an experience as key differentiators at these top-ranking brands.

“Consumers are loving the fact they’ve got real variety now,” he says. “And that puts a lot of pressure on the larger brands.” McDonald’s and Burger King both fell outside of the top 10, ranking at No. 11 and No. 13, respectively.

Despite the sandwich segment’s prowess over burgers, both segments could stand to amp up the value for customers—Edwards says the study reveals both struggle with that aspect of satisfaction.

“When it comes to value, I think it’s important to focus on breaking the mindset of what people think will happen by giving them something just a little bit different,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be expensive, considering these business run on tight margins, but you can play with what people expect.”

By Tamara Omazic