Special Report | August 2011 | By Sam Oches

The 2011 QSR 50

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16/Dairy Queen

The biggest dessert player in the quick-serve industry offered a new way for customers to experience its massively popular Blizzard when it rolled out the Mini Blizzard in April 2010. The new treat was the center of attention as DQ celebrated its 25th anniversary in style, driving a food truck around the country and handing out free Mini Blizzards.

Meanwhile, new integrated marketing campaigns featuring a family of DQ fanatics (the Blizzmans), and a humorous new pitchman resonated well with the coveted young male demographic.

17/Papa John’s

Plenty of quick serves invest marketing dollars into sports, but Papa John’s really depends on it. The pizza company became the Official Pizza Sponsor of the Super Bowl in 2010 and followed that with several one-off sports promotions that delivered its pies to hungry fans. A new iPhone app and increased online ordering are helping the brand become more accessible to its younger clientele, too.

18/Chipotle

Chipotle marked its 1,000th store opening in 2010 and celebrated a growth of $300 million in sales over 2009. A marketing push behind the company’s long-time slogan, “Food With Integrity,” helped take advantage of an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base, a move spokesman Chris Arnold says will continue into 2011.

CEO Steve Ells’ exposure on the NBC show “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” meanwhile, shouldn’t hurt the brand. And experiments with the Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen concept, which is set to open its first store in Washington, D.C., in 2011, should continue to give Chipotle good buzz.

19/Hardee’s

Hardee’s focused much of its 2010 innovation on its popular Made from Scratch biscuits, with several new biscuit breakfast dishes, like the Country Fried Steak ‘N’ Gravy biscuit. Fried chicken, another Southern mainstay, also reappeared on the menu in the form of Hand Breaded Chicken Tenders, which customers could order alone or in a Chicken Tender Wrap.

Of course, no year for Hardee’s would be complete without another big burger addition. For 2010 it was the Texas Toast Bacon Cheese Thickburger. Imagine the surprise of customers when Hardee’s and sister brand Carl’s Jr. launched a Turkey Burger in the spring of 2011.

20/Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

On August 25, 2010, Times Square passersby may have thought New Years had come early, as a celebratory crowd had collected there. Instead, a group of Popeyes staffers and fans had gathered to celebrate a taste test that favored the company’s Spicy and Mild Bonafide chicken over KFC’s Original Recipe. The Bonafide chicken, as well as the new Wicked Chicken, helped the brand to net unit and sales increases as it settled into its “Louisiana Kitchen” moniker.

Next: QSR 50 Profiles 21 - 25