Special Report | August 2012 | By Sam Oches

The QSR 50

Page 2
The top 50 quick-service and fast-casual restaurant brands.
McDonald's once again claims the No. 1 spot on the QSR 50. image used with permission.
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7 Dunkin’ Donuts ( 7 )

Dunkin’ Donuts may have made its name with coffee and doughnuts, but the brand is banking on an expanded food menu to help it achieve its goal of doubling its U.S. unit count in the next 20 years. The new food items that debuted in 2011 (Big ‘N Toasty Breakfast Sandwich, Hearty Snacks, Blueberry Waffle Breakfast Sandwich, Smokehouse Sausage Breakfast Sandwich, and Texas Toast Grilled Cheese Sandwich) and several that debuted early in 2012 (Bakery Sandwiches, Artisan Bagels, Angus Steak & Egg Sandwich, and the return of Sausage Pancake Bites) helped bolster its breakfast appeal. That should pay off handsomely as Dunkin’ continues its slow expansion push westward.

8 Pizza Hut ( 8 )

Aside from its ambitious international growth and bold $20 Big Dinner Box (which includes two medium pizzas, eight wings, and five breadsticks), 2011 was business as usual at Pizza Hut. The company did add some star appeal, with a marketing spot featuring NFL running back Reggie Bush and a Book It! reading program supported by The Biebs himself, Justin Bieber. It also debuted new mobile ordering apps and invested in a strong focus on social media and online marketing.

9 KFC ( 9 )

Much like its Yum! Brands sister concept Pizza Hut, KFC has been busy gobbling up international markets, especially in China, where it now has more than 3,700 units. That direction may explain its stumble domestically, which included a $200 million drop in sales and net loss of 275 stores over the previous year. But the company is trusting new “chief chicken officer” Aaron Person to help carry the innovation torch, and it’s also turning its eye to sustainable operations; a new store in Indianapolis even earned a LEED Gold certification.

10 Chick-fil-A ( 11 )

The newest member of the top 10 domestic quick-serve brands, Chick-fil-A leap-frogged Sonic by adding nearly $500 million to its domestic sales over 2010. New menu items like the Banana Pudding Milkshake, Multigrain Oatmeal, and Chicken Tortilla Soup likely helped in 2011, and this year’s debut of a new kids’ meal, which offers Grilled Chicken Nuggets and applesauce and restricts kids’ beverages, should succeed as well. Meanwhile, the corporate team is focused on being good stewards of the earth, investing in sustainable operations at several new stores.

11 Sonic Drive-In ( 10 )

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That mantra should have described Sonic’s 2011, during which the brand’s newly refreshed marketing campaigns struggled to find footing with customers. CEO J. Clifford Hudson said earlier this year that the campaigns also weren’t flexible enough to market all of the chain’s offerings, which last year grew to include new beef hot dogs, sweet potato tots, and sundae shakes, among other new menu items. So Sonic brought in a new creative agency and a new CMO, James O’Reilly, who quickly turned to two familiar dudes for some marketing help: the Two Guys, to be exact, who helped advertise Sonic from 2002 to 2010.

12 Domino’s Pizza ( 12 )

Having successfully transitioned into its new pizza recipe (and companion marketing campaigns) that brought the company back from the dead, Domino’s spent 2011 zeroing in on additional menu innovation. New items included Parmesan Bread Bites, Stuffed Cheesy Bread, a premium chicken product, and the Artisan Pizza line. The company also introduced its Smart Slice program, which took healthier pizza offerings into K–12 schools.

Finally jumping head first into the mobile age didn’t hurt, either; one week after it debuted, Domino’s new mobile ordering app had earned $1 million in sales.

13 Panera Bread ( 13 )

The fast-casual leader maintained its steady growth in 2011, padding its sales with an additional $300 million domestically over 2010. A number of new calorie-conscious items, like the Thai Chopped Chicken Salad and the Low-Fat Wild Berry Smoothie, were a new draw for customers last year, as was a new panini menu. Panera is now tackling several aspects of the customer experience; the company is testing table delivery, rolling out its first national cable TV advertising campaign, and committing to more units with a drive thru. The brand’s exposure also earned a major boost earlier this year when the company opened its first Manhattan unit.

14 Arby’s ( 14 )

Despite getting dumped by Wendy’s in a $430 million sale to Roark Capital Group, Arby’s was finally, after years of falling sales, in a “Good Mood” last year. The concept rolled out Market Fresh Reuben, Ultimate Angus Philly, and Ultimate Angus Three Cheese & Bacon sandwiches, and also updated its kids’ meal to include two healthier entrée options (a Jr. Turkey and Cheese Sandwich and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese) and apple slices as a side. The “Good Mood Food” integrated marketing campaign, meanwhile, helped Arby’s carve out a fresh brand personality.

The sum of its parts? Arby’s domestic sales were up over 2010, albeit barely.

15 Jack in the Box ( 15 )

Croissants, combo deals, and new sandwiches and desserts all found their way to Jack in the Box’s menu in 2011. The company also added four new items to its value menu and, like several other chains, boosted the nutrition of its kids’ meals by adding apple slices and caramel as a side option. If all of that wasn’t enough to get customers’ attention, Jack in the Box’s 34-foot-long food truck, Jack’s Munchie Mobile, should have done the trick when it hit the streets of Southern California.

16 Dairy Queen ( 16 )

International growth was and remains a major focus for Dairy Queen, which expanded its presence in China in 2011 and opened in Saudi Arabia for the first time (a move highlighted by the biggest DQ Grill & Chill store in the world). While the brand continues to roll out new permanent and LTO blizzard flavors in the U.S., it’s also investing in its lunch menu. The Lunch Lovers digital campaign that launched earlier this year rewarded Facebook fans who professed their love of DQ’s lunch menu with free gift cards.