Special Report

The Contenders (51-65)

Not all brands make it onto the QSR 50. Here are the companies to watch for next year's ranking.

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Hot on the heels of the QSR 50, McAlister’s Deli is a growing soup, salad, and sandwich chain with a 22-state footprint that ranked at the top of QSR’s Contenders list (brands 51–65). Positioning itself to most likely make the jump to the big list next year, McAlister’s implemented a number of changes over the last 12 months that turned around negative comps and pushed the company toward more aggressive franchising.

In one of his last interviews as McAlister’s CEO, Phil Friedman said it’s still early for that segment’s behemoth, Panera Bread, to be worried about competition, buthe feels good about the fact that multiple McAlister’s markets that once struggled are finally beginning to bounce back.

Some of the biggest changes are McAlister’s in fiscal 2009 were the addition of paninis and the effort to enhance the experience. The brand went from disposable to realplateware “so that the presentation was a little more authentic,” Friedman said.The company also launchedtossed salads, a menu technique that was used only for the Caesar salad originally.

McAlister’s Deli
51

McAlister's Deli

Tapping into the personalization wave, McAlister’s launched its "Choose Any 2" menu program last year, a systemwide move that jolted sales. The Mississippi-based chain has now paired that program with an iPhone app, allowing customers to create a personalized entrée from more than 930 possible combinations and be directed to the closest McAlister’s location. A new prototype restaurant is making its debut, just as the brand prepares to bring its famous Sweet Tea into new markets.

Auntie Anne's

Auntie Anne’s
52

New menu additions, led by Lemonade Mixers and the Pepperoni Pretzel, sparked a record-setting year for Auntie Anne’s, which enthusiastically capitalized on the snacking trend. As it celebrated the opening of its 1,000th store, the Pennsylvania-based brand also expanded its international presence, adding locations in Mexico, Ireland, and Egypt. Japan’s next, as is an increased focus on college and airport locations and the continued use of social networking and text messaging to connect with customers.

Moe’s Southwest Grill
53

With price and portion size top of mind, Moe’s introduced Junior Burritos in August, which immediately jumpstarted languishing sales and created much-needed positive momentum. With a growing focus on nontraditional locations like its spot in the Las Vegas airport, cobranded units such as those with Carvel and Cinnabon, and an emerging international presence highlighted by a 40-unit franchise agreement in Turkey, Moe’s expects to open 100 new restaurants by the end of 2011.

Fuddruckers
54

It’s been a tough go for Fuddruckers, the one-time hamburger darling. Amid double-digit drops in same-store sales, parent company Magic Brands declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and later sold 62 Fuddruckers locations in April before shuttering 25 corporate-owned stores. Some bright prospects remain, however. Nearly 200 locations, including 135 franchised units, remain open to promote the brand’s newest menu offering: Fudds Exotics, a line of all-natural, free-range, grass- and grain-fed game burgers as well as a wild-caught salmon filet.

Au Bon Pain
55

While new product introductions, namely the Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal line, allowed Au Bon Pain to steady itself in a challenging 2009 environment, the years ahead claimed the Boston-based brand’s overriding attention. Convinced that more promising economic times loom, Au Bon Pain researched its target demographic and its dining desires, and feedback spurred the still-in-development new concept prototype that will overhaul not only the physical space, but the restaurant’s service and menu as well.

Wingstop
56

International growth and restaurant openings in the Midwest and Northeast fueled Wingstop to a 20 percent jump in systemwide sales in 2009, which inspired the Texas company to intensify its development efforts under the direction of Roark Capital Group, which acquired Wingstop in April. Sixty stores are expected to open in 2010 alone, a complement to Wingstop’s first-ever interior redesign and its pursuit of a 28th consecutive quarter of positive comparable store sales.

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