Panera Bread is at the top of the list of favorite sandwich chains, according to a national study from Market Force, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence solutions. Panera was voted America’s No. 1 sandwich chain in a restaurant industry survey of more than 7,600 consumers. Jason’s Deli and McAlister’s Deli were ranked second and third, followed by Firehouse Subs, Quiznos, Jimmy John’s, and Subway.
The study, conducted in August, was designed to uncover which sandwich chains consumers like most and why they prefer one to another. Market Force first calculated the favorites based on the total number of votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a more level view of the results. Of the 14 major national and region sandwich/wrap chains studied, Subway garnered the most total votes, which can be credited to the fact that it’s one of the nation’s largest franchises. However, when viewed as a calculation of favorite votes per location, smaller chain Panera took the top spot among the top eight brands.
With 1,600 locations across North America, Panera has seemingly found the recipe for growth with its bakery-café concept. Part of its success is due to a highly successful loyalty program that enables the chain to capture customer behavior and use that information to inform its menu and marketing strategy. On the heels of Panera is fast-expanding Jason’s Deli, which differentiates itself with a menu focused on healthy food. Both Jason’s Deli and third-ranking McAlister’s Deli also saw sales and unit growth in 2011.
Market Force also analyzed the results geographically to see which sandwich chains are most popular in the four regions of the country – the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.
Panera was the crowd favorite in all regions except the Midwest, where Jason’s Deli had the highest ranking. The top four in the Northeast included large chains like Quiznos and Arby’s, which didn’t make the cut in any of the other regions.
Market Force also asked consumers to rank the sandwich chains based on attributes including food quality/taste, customer service, cleanliness, atmosphere, and overall value. Jason’s Deli landed in the No. 1 spot in the weighty food and value categories, as well as in cleanliness. Respondents lauded Jimmy John’s for providing the best service, and recognized Panera for its inviting atmosphere. McAlister’s performed consistently well in all areas.
“We’re seeing a shift in the sandwich industry, where now the customer experience is just as important as the convenience factor,” says Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “Brands like Panera and Jason’s Deli are differentiating in areas like atmosphere and health-conscious food, and that’s drawing customers in the door and making them return visitors.”
The survey was conducted in August 2012 across the United States. The pool of 7,600 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with half reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 19 to over 65. Approximately one-quarter were men and 75 percent were women, and 73 percent reported working full or part time. Half of the respondents have children at home and more than two-thirds are married.