Subway is the 2016 Sandwich Shop Brand of the Year, securing the title for the sixth consecutive year, according to The Harris Poll 2016 EquiTrend Study. Meanwhile, Moe’s Southwest Grill unseated Chipotle as the most popular fast-casual Mexican brand.

The 28th annual study reveals the strongest brands in nearly 100 categories across the media, travel, financial, automotive, entertainment, retail, restaurant, and household industries, based on consumer response. Leaders in the limited-service industry include:

  • Subway (sandwich shop)
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill (fast-casual Mexican)
  • In-N-Out Burger (burger restaurant)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (coffee and quick-service restaurant)
  • Chick-fil-A (chicken restaurant)
  • Pizza Hut (pizza chain)


Measuring brands’ health over time, the EquiTrend Brand Equity Index is comprised of three factors—Familiarity, Quality, and Purchase Consideration—that result in a brand equity rating for each brand. Brands ranking highest in equity receive the Harris Poll EquiTrend “Brand of the Year” award for their respective categories. This year, more than 97,000 U.S. consumers assessed more than 3,800 brands (including more than 60 restaurant brands) across nearly 500 categories.

“The importance of a strong brand can’t be overstated; it can be one of your company’s most valuable assets,” says Lisa Recoussine, vice president of client solutions at Nielsen, which owns The Harris Poll. “When consumers recognize and make a positive connection with your brand they are more likely to make a purchase—and come back again and again. At a time when dining out is more popular than ever, with more options than ever before, strong brand equity is critical to restaurants’ success.”

This year’s Harris Poll study marks the sixth consecutive year Subway has secured the Brand of the Year title in the Sandwich Shop category—a feat achieved only by nine other brands in the EquiTrend study.

Moe’s Southwest Grill shows the largest equity increase (13 percent) among all restaurants measured, and demonstrates one of the largest equity increases across all brands assessed, which is significant given the tendency for equity to resist rapid movement.

“Year after year, Subway has proven that it has equity staying power,” Recoussine says. “Getting ahead of the fitness curve and being one of the first chains to use a celebrity fitness tie in with ‘The Biggest Loser’ are some factors contributing to Subway’s equity dominance. In Moe’s case, the restaurant’s aggressive expansion and growth, combined with their focus on fresh, likely factored into their equity rise.”

Harris Poll’s assessment of the restaurant Brands of the Year show that responding to consumers’ needs for fresher, healthier offerings and catering to their “brand fans” are ways to build strong equity.

“When we look at the quick service restaurant category as a whole, healthy and fresh food is a clear trend,” Recoussine says. “Moe’s Southwest Grill and Subway are examples of restaurants that have listened to their customers and responded to their needs. While not fast food, Olive Garden is another good example of making healthy and fresh options a priority.

“Building a base of ‘brand fans’ is another huge contributor to brand equity; when we consider Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, and In-N-Out Burger, these restaurants have die-hard, extremely loyal customers or fans who are in some cases, nearly obsessed with these brands. Brands who recognize and acknowledge these fans will remain relevant and stay top of mind with consumers’ active brand consideration set, meaning not only do these brands have high familiarity and quality ratings, but they are able to breakthrough and drive consumer behavior.”

The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Study is based on a sample of 97,120 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over surveyed online, in English, between December 22, 2015, and February 1, 2016.  The survey took an average of 30 minutes to complete. The total number of brands rated was 3,837. Each respondent was asked to rate a total of 40 randomly selected brands. Each brand received approximately 1,000 ratings. Data was weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. population of consumers ages 15 and over based on age by sex, education, race/ethnicity, region, income, and data from respondents ages 18 and over were also weighted for their propensity to be online. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The Brand Equity Index is the keystone to the EquiTrend program, providing an understanding of a brand’s overall strength. A brand’s Equity is determined by a calculation of Familiarity, Quality, and Purchase Consideration. Brand of the Year is determined by a simple ranking of brands.

Consumer Trends, News, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin' Donuts, In-N-Out Burger, Moe's Southwest Grill, Pizza Hut, Subway