Special Report | August 2011 | By Sam Oches

The 2011 QSR 50

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6/Taco Bell

Value continued to be the name of the game at Taco Bell, even as most chains pulled back on the deep discounting that became so popular during the recession. The home of 89- and 99-cent burritos followed the quick-serve stampede to the $5 price point, adding its $5-Buck Box to the menu.

CEO Greg Creed says the company will push into the healthy arena by lowering its sodium by 33 percent across its menu in 2011, while maintaining its long-standing focus of giving customers more bang for their buck. Plans are also in place to improve the ambience of units by installing new furniture packages and providing free WiFi access.

7/Dunkin’ Donuts

Egg White Wraps, Pancake Bites, Bagel Twists, and Waffle Sandwiches all appeared on the Dunkin’ Donuts menu in 2010 as the coffee-and-doughnuts concept continued to expand its breakfast offerings.

The company maintained strong expansion numbers as it pushed into new markets and boasted 206 more units at year’s end than the year before. This growth might have been a big reason parent company Dunkin’ Brands decided to finally go public in May 2011.

8/Pizza Hut

Pizza category leader Pizza Hut’s $10 Any Pizza deal failed to make the $10 price point magic for consumers. The Yum! Brands concept retooled its pricing strategy in mid-2010 by slapping an $8 tag on medium pizzas with up to three toppings and $10 on large pizzas with up to three toppings, plus $2 more for specialty pies.

Although growth was relatively stagnant and unit counts dropped, at least one sales number certainly impressed in 2010—the company announced that it expected more than $2 billion in online sales for the year.

9/KFC

Bacon and cheese sandwiched between two chicken breasts may not have been a dream menu item for our quick-serve forefathers, but KFC made it a reality in 2010.

The Double Down was one of the most buzzed-about menu items out of the fast food industry in years. Although it did move about 10 million sandwiches in a month, it ultimately failed to take root as a popular menu option. KFC instead turned to another new sandwich, the Doublicious, and additional grilled items, like the Fiery Grilled Wings, to drum up some buzz with customers.

10/Sonic

A Footlong Quarter Pound Coney and Real Ice Cream treats were added to Sonic’s menu in 2010, but the Oklahoma-based concept couldn’t stop sliding sales, which dropped more than $200 million from 2009 to 2010. A new chief marketing officer, Danielle Vona, joined the company from PepsiCo, where she was vice president of marketing, in hopes to boost the brand’s exposure.

Next: QSR 50 Profiles 11 - 15