There's an age-old saying woven into kids' vernacular, a commandment of sorts underlying playground activities the world over: "First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairy chest" (third, depending on your playground, may also have a treasure chest).
While McDonald's executives are unlikely to complain that nearly $36 billion in U.S. sales is the "worst," they probably don't love that being the benchmark for the quick-service restaurant industry for decades has painted an enormous target on their backs, or that the post-recession foodservice climate has equipped competitors big and small with the kind of market-grabbing ammo they need to finally make a dent in the Golden Arches' long-impenetrable armor.
It's not to say McDonald's is faltering. Business continues to grow, and the company's stranglehold on Americans' wallets—especially in rural and other non-urban markets—is firm; its brand affinity is deeply embedded in our culture. But these days, there's a growing hint of urgency flowing from Oak Brook. Recent high-profile menu adds like the Premium Chicken McWrap and Mighty Wings were non-starters, while the Dollar Menu & More value menu drummed up more debate about the relationship between discounting and franchisees' profitability than it did consumer excitement. Meanwhile, comparable sales have been a roller coaster, the waves of the nation's wage debate have been lapping at headquarters' doors, and competitors like Taco Bell are throwing down the gauntlet in the breakfast daypart, threatening to stake a long-term claim in a space McDonald's has long dominated.
All of this has squeezed McDonald's between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, pressure is on to enhance food and service to compete with fast casuals; on the other, failed menu extensions seem to have proved that the brand might be better off sticking with the traditional burgers and fries value that made it so successful in the first place. Will customizable burgers, seasoned fries, a rejuvenated Ronald McDonald, a commitment to purchase more sustainable beef, and mobile ordering help find the right balance between the two? McDonald's hopes so, as all have either been teased, tested, or tweeted this year as the company strives for something, anything, that will finally stick in today's crowding industry playground.
Novelty has always found its place in the quick-service industry, an industry in which consumer trends change at the drop of a dime and getting the customer's attention in an increasingly noisy field requires a little bit of showboating. Even Subway, the largest restaurant chain in the world and as sure a bet as there is when it comes to brand exposure, has twirled its toes in the pool of novelty, this year throwing some Fritos on a sandwich (the Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt) to see what happened and crashing New York Fashion Week with "Project Subway," a contest to see what kind of outfits designers could come up with using only Subway packaging products.
Mostly, though, Subway has used the last year to fortify its position as a company committed to a healthy, active lifestyle. The brand expanded its athlete spokesperson campaign through a partnership with former soccer mega-star Pele, who will serve as a "global brand ambassador," and it teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama in her Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which aims to improve childhood nutrition. The latter move made Subway the first quick serve to team up with PHA and saw the brand commit to its first kid-focused marketing campaign.
Howard Schultz is on a warpath. The Starbucks CEO, who rescued the brand from oversaturation and dilution in the mid-2000s when he returned from an eight-year retirement, has the coffee giant on the straight-and-narrow, a path clearly defined by a company culture rooted in creativity, sustainability, and social consciousness.
But the real trick up Schultz's sleeve is in the brand diversification strategy he's masterminded at Starbucks. The acquisitions of La Boulange, Teavana, and Evolution Fresh have given Starbucks skin in the food, tea, and juice games, respectively, while also providing the opportunity to proliferate the company culture in new ways; Oprah, for example, became a new brand partner by developing the Teavana Oprah Chai Tea, which debuted this year in Starbucks and Teavana stores nationwide, as well as in the Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar units the company opened in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
While Starbucks is busy rolling La Boulange and Evolution Fresh products out to more of its company-operated stores, Schultz and company are already moving on to their next diversification phase: The brand's new craft soda line, Fizzio, debuted this summer in Golden Ginger Ale, Spiced Root Beer, and Lemon Ale flavors.
Perhaps no other quick-service limited-time offer has drummed up as much buzz in the last 18 months as Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger did when it debuted in July 2013. The pretzel-bunned burger unleashed a widespread pretzel trend last year and led to a 3.2 percent comparable same-store sales increase in 2013's third quarter. But Wendy's wasn't done in what it called the "Year of the Bun"; brioche and ciabatta burgers followed soon after the mega success that was the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, all in an effort to enhance Wendy's menu to more of a fast-casual quality. For more on how Wendy's used the last year to give its menu, store, and brand a premium spin, click here.
When Burger King announced the launch of its Satisfries in September 2013, it was a welcome change of pace for a brand that had spent the preceding three or four years rolling out massive LTO menus and novelty products that didn't seem to have much promise for long-term success. The Satisfries, though, gave Burger King a new kind of weapon in its menu arsenal: The french fries were the first significant healthier fry product among major quick-serve players and gave Burger King a major selling point in the ongoing nutrition conversation.
But where the Satisfries were a proactive move to get ahead of the industry in the fries department, much of the rest of Burger King's moves in the last year seem to have been reactive. In response to the "breakfast wars" between McDonald's and Taco Bell, Burger King inserted itself by announcing it would make burgers available during the morning daypart. After McDonald's revamped its value menu with the Dollar Menu & More, Burger King renamed its own dollar menu the King Deals Value Menu. And to combat McDonald's signature Big Mac, Burger King re-released its Big King burger, which had originally been discontinued in the '90s.
With unit counts and systemwide sales both down over 2012, Burger King may want to consider its own advice found in its brand-new tagline—which replaced the 40-year-old "Have It Your Way" in May—if it wants to climb back into the top-five competition: "Be Your Way."
There's no shortage of news flowing out of Taco Bell's Irvine, California, headquarters these days; blink and you might miss an announcement of another transformative LTO, industry-resonating menu shift, or cheeky marketing campaign aimed snugly at the brand's chief demographic of young, hungry men.
Whereas a product launch like Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco (DLT) would give most other brands enough street cred to coast for a year or two in the innovation department—the DLTs reportedly sold about a billion units in their first year after debuting in the summer of 2012, and now come in four flavors—the folks at Taco Bell didn't rest on their laurels. First they ditched the kids' menu, shedding it in favor of an increased investment in the coveted Millennial demographic. Then they expanded the beverage menu, adding six new soft drinks developed in partnership with PepsiCo. There was also the announcement that Taco Bell would open a fast-casual extension brand, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, that features higher-quality fusion items in a more casual setting.
The biggest news from Taco Bell in the last year, though, was its first national foray into the breakfast daypart. The breakfast menu—Waffle Taco, A.M. Crunchwrap, A.M. Grilled Taco, Breakfast Burrito, and Cinnabon Delights—offered an innovative spin on the morning meal that played well across social media channels, while the brand's major marketing push, which included shots fired at breakfast king McDonald's, ensured that the menu rollout was buzzed about in consumer media for weeks.
Dunkin' Donuts is keeping apace with snack and beverage leader Starbucks, boosting its net unit count by 371 to Starbucks' 329, growth that has included a steady march across the West Coast. Similar to Starbucks, Dunkin' has focused much of its growth strategy on diversification, especially in the food department. The Boston-based brand ran off a string of LTOs, including the Chicken Apple Sausage, Eggs Benedict, Spicy Smoked Sausage, and Angus Steak Big N' Toasted breakfast sandwiches, as well as the Angus Steak & Cheese Wrap. It also added permanently the Barbecue Chicken, Bacon Ranch Chicken, and Grilled Chicken Flatbread sandwiches, and expanded its nutrition-focused DDSmart menu with a Sliced Turkey breakfast sandwich and a Whole Wheat Bagel.
The brand's next play for out-and-about customers? Rolling out a new store design. Dunkin' introduced its first redesign in seven years last summer, an upgrade that includes cozier furniture and lighting, more electrical outlets, TVs, and bar-top seating, a package intended to invite customers to sit and stay a while.
The pizza leader and Yum! Brands outfit had dabbled with novelty pies the last few years, but lately, it seems Pizza Hut has caught on to the tsunami of fast-casual pizza joints crashing across the U.S. Last summer, the brand released its Firebaked Flatbread Pizzas, which were "wood-fire style" and came six to a box, and earlier this year it stepped up its premium pizza offerings with the Hand-Tossed Crust, a lighter crust more akin to the Neapolitan style so popular at those fast casuals. Whether the premium, build-your-own pizza brands make a dent in Pizza Hut's sales remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: Pizza Hut should be fine in the online-ordering department, where it recently surpassed the $1 billion sales mark and which now accounts for one-third of all of the brand's orders.
Enjoying its newfound spot as the ruler of the chicken category roost, Chick-fil-A cruised through another super-successful year in 2013, padding its systemwide sales by $400 million (crossing the $5 billion threshold in the process) and bumping its unit count by 92 units. This year's introduction of a new grilled chicken recipe—which, according to the company, took seven years and $50 million to develop—could give the ardent fan base another reason to swing into a Chick-fil-A, and should be attractive to new markets outside the Southeast that the brand is just now starting to tap into, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Having ceded chicken dominance to Chick-fil-A—which it continued to do this year, as it fell in both unit counts and systemwide sales—KFC seems to be grasping for the next big idea to ruffle some feathers in the quick-serve industry. The Original Recipe Boneless Chicken last year didn't do the trick, nor did the Go Cups, which were designed for easy on-the-go snacking. With its new ideas failing to catch on with the public, KFC resorted this year to bringing back one of its most buzzed about—and novel—menu items: the Double Down.
The one new idea that could have some legs at KFC is KFC eleven, an upgraded, fast-casual version of the concept that features some of KFC's chicken items, along with flatbreads and more high-quality sandwiches. One unit is open, near the company's Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters, but apparently it's not inspired much confidence among the leadership at parent company Yum! Brands just yet; Yum opened Super Chix, another chicken fast-casual prototype, in Dallas this year.
The No. 1 fast casual inched closer to the QSR 50's top 10, at least as far as sales go; Panera's $400 million-plus boost to its systemwide sales over 2012, coupled with KFC's tumble, has positioned the former to be a scant $16 million away from leap-frogging the latter into the industry's most elite fraternity. CEO Ron Shaich hopes a new initiative that the company is calling "Panera 2.0" will be enough to help cover that spread. The initiative will see Panera completely reimagining its ordering process and throughput, using touch-screen stations, menu customization, mobile ordering, and a revised store layout to streamline the Panera experience.
Four years after Domino's Pizza shocked the industry with its pronouncement that its pizza was no good and that it would start over with a new recipe, the delivery kings are continuing to ride high, having boosted both store counts and systemwide sales. While the brand had focused on menu diversification after the new pizza recipe debut, lately it's been tightening the screws on the broader brand experience, slowly rolling out its new "Pizza Theater" store prototype and tinkering with its ordering capabilities, which in the last year included new iPad and Windows Phone 8 apps.
Not one to sit back and let the top 10 players have all the fun with consumer trends, Sonic unveiled its own series of menu additions that played well among the buzzword-happy social media generation. Soon after Wendy's launched its popular Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger LTO, Sonic added its own Pretzel Dogs, which came in Original, Cheesy Bacon, and, later, Chili Cheese varieties. The brand also followed the leaders toward the "natural" sandbox with its Natural-Cut Fries, and it played up its leadership in the beverage space, using this summer to hype the fact that it had 50 different shake and slush options. All that menu innovation should give Sonic a leg up in future endeavors, which, it announced, will include opening 1,000 units in the next 10 years.
You have to figure that Carl's Jr. and Hardee's parent company, CKE Restaurants, has embedded the mantra "Go big or go home" deep into its brand strategy. From its LTO burgers, like the X-Tra Bacon Thickburger and Super Bacon Cheeseburger, to its permanent additions, like the recent Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's focus as much on quantity as they do quality in their menu and messaging. The company even claimed that the chicken in the Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich was, at 5 ounces, the biggest in quick service, using its advertising to say it has the biggest… well, birds in the business. But CKE isn't forgetting the quality component in its strategy. Having successfully rolled out Hardee's Made from Scratch biscuits to all Carl's Jr. locations, the company leveraged the oven technology to introduce Fresh Baked Buns to the system.
Maybe the biggest news at CKE last year, though, was its acquisition by Atlanta-based Roark Capital, which acquired the company in late 2013 for $1.7 billion. (Editor's note: While Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have historically been listed as separate entries in the QSR 50, this year we at QSR decided to combine the two brands as one entry to recognize CKE's efforts to bring the two more closely in harmony in both their marketing and menu efforts.)
In a world where premium quality, customization, and brand culture are collectively fueling the limited-service restaurant industry's push into the future, Chipotle is in the driver's seat. The fast-casual brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013, is rooting itself into customers' collective consciousness as much as McDonald's did in the '50s and '60s, becoming the benchmark against which consumers and media alike compare the rest of the industry.
With its menu mix firmly established, Chipotle is planting creative new touch points through which it can interact with its loyal consumer base. Its "Scarecrow" video and mobile game were instant hits in the fall of 2013, following in the footsteps of Chipotle's popular 2012 "Back to the Start" video, which similarly raised questions on the subject of factory farming. Shortly after, Chipotle debuted a show on Hulu.com, "Farmed and Dangerous," to continue that conversation. This year's "Cultivating Thought" initiative, which recruited popular authors, actors, and other artists to create content for Chipotle's packaging, follows in the same vein, encouraging customers to engage not only with creative thought and progress, but also with the Chipotle brand.
Jack in the Box
Well, you can't say Jack in the Box doesn't know its audience. The California-based brand made waves last October when it announced, as part of an ongoing brand facelift, its Munchie Meals, a late-night menu aimed at Millennials and composed of more, let's say, unique menu items. The menu includes the Cheesy Chicken sandwich, topped with Mozzarella sticks and white cheese sauce; the Stacked Grilled Cheese Burger, made with a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich as the top bun; the Loaded Nuggets, drizzled with two types of melted cheese, ranch dressing, and bits of bacon; and the Brunch Burger, a cheeseburger with a fried egg and hash browns served on a croissant. Munchie Meals are part of a broader late-night shift in which Jack in the Box restaurants become de facto nightclubs at 9 p.m., loud electronic music dancing through the restaurants.
The Jack in the Box corporate team went through its own transition in the last year. Long-time CEO Linda Lang retired, replaced by company veteran Leonard Comma.
It's taken Arby's a long time to climb back from the recession, but it's getting there. The roast beef sandwich chain, which peaked in systemwide sales in 2009 before being set back by the Great Recession, has slid down the QSR 50 ranks as brands like Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Jack in the Box, and Chipotle have blown past. But Arby's seemed to stabilize the business in the last year, helped along by good mojo from moves like its Share Our Strength commitment—in which it is the biggest quick-serve contributor to the childhood hunger charity, its total donations now totaling more than $5 million—and the buzz it created when it teased musician Pharrell Williams via Twitter for the hat he wore to the Grammy Awards, which looked awfully similar to the Arby's logo.
Little Caesars keeps cruising along by doing much of the same, crossing the $3 billion sales mark and growing its unit count by 217 stores mostly on the back of its incredibly popular Hot 'n Ready pizzas. This year, though, it's throwing its weight into the lunch daypart with its $5 Lunch Combo, which comes with four slices of DEEP! DEEP! Dish pizza and a 20-ounce Pepsi product.
A steady string of seasonal LTOs helped Dairy Queen maintain its dessert dominance in 2013, even as frozen-yogurt concepts continued to spoon into its market share. The brand's introduction to New York City this year, with its first location opening in Manhattan, introduced ice cream treats to millions of people who might have experienced fro-yo overload.
Sports continue to be Papa John's primary calling card, as the Louisville, Kentucky–based brand that is celebrating its 30th year in 2014 weaves the nation's three most popular professional leagues—the NFL, NBA, and MLB—into its promotional efforts. In baseball, Papa John's became the official pizza of the most popular team, the New York Yankees, while in the basketball world, the company bumped its exposure during the playoffs with a commercial featuring Indiana Pacers star Paul George. But it's football that really makes Papa John's tick, and after NFL MVP Peyton Manning joined the company as a franchisee in the spring of 2013, retired superstar and fellow Papa John's spokesman Jerome Bettis followed suit, purchasing three restaurants in the Pittsburgh market.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
At Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, it's all Southern and Cajun favorites all the time, and that's continued to inform its limited-time and permanent menu offers that corner a unique niche within the industry. When the brand celebrated Mardi Gras this year, it did so with the Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box and Cajun Surf & Turf meals, while at the same time adding a host of permanent menu options, including Cajun Fish, Catfish, Spicy Tenders, and Cajun Rice. The company's most successful LTO, however, proved to be something inspired by a dish whose heritage has long been debated. Popeyes' Chicken Waffle Tenders, which fried the chicken in waffle batter, were so successful that the brand brought them back this summer.
No one ever said a chain serving up a taste of the Far East couldn't mix in some trends from the West in the meantime. That's exactly what Panda Express has been doing with its latest LTOs, which have included the Orange Chicken with Bacon, Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast, and Sriracha Shrimp entrées. The brand is also offering a safe haven for Americans looking for a quick but healthy bite; Panda Express features a host of Wok Smart items with 250 calories or less per serving.
Better-burger brands may be all the rage, but regional titans like Whataburger prove that customers are still footin' it to the traditional joints they grew up with. Whataburger, though, doesn't always show its age; while old-school dishes like the Monterey Melt proved popular enough to join the permanent menu, the brand also scored with last summer's trend-happy Avocado Bacon Burger LTO.
In traditional Jimmy John's fashion, the brand made zero waves in the last 18 months, instead putting the proof in the pudding, increasing its store count by almost 250 units and bumping its systemwide sales by another $200 million, one year after it crossed the $1 billion milestone for the first time.
Five Guys Burgers & Fries
It's fitting that Five Guys and Jimmy John's are a pair on the QSR 50, as each seems to have studied the same playbook: keep to the menu you've got, put your head down, make money. And that's exactly what Five Guys did, too, building both its sales and store counts over 2012.
The Southeast fast-casual staple is slowly spreading its wings, moving the brand westward into states like Utah and Washington. Last year's partnership with 28 Division I college football and basketball programs helped put Zaxby's more on the national map, and it invested in those partnerships with its Fan Special, which included four signature Chicken Fingerz, Crinkle Fries, Texas Toast, Zax Sauce, and a Large Beverage. The chain also drummed up social buzz with its Check-In for Chicken mobile app and rewards program, which doled out points to members who engaged with the brand on social media. All of it helped push Zaxby's across the $1 billion threshold for the first time.
Another fixture in the Southeast, Bojangles' is following in Zaxby's footsteps and approaching $1 billion in systemwide sales for the first time. The company's hints earlier this year that it would move into new territories, including the Midwest and up the East Coast, suggested Bojangles' is ready for prime time. Click here for more.
With the burger and fro-yo crazes raging up and down both coasts, Culver's is banking on its down-home Midwest favorites, the Butter Burger and frozen custard, to play well in new markets. The Wisconsin-based brand is slowly expanding into states like South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, and this year crossed the 500-unit mark for the first time.
Steak 'n Shake
Steak 'n Shake is ringing in its 80th anniversary this year, a significant achievement for a brand that's seen its fair share of burger competitors come and go and for a corporate team that has faced upheaval in the last decade or so. CEO Sardar Biglari has made more headlines for his contested attempts at taking control of casual chain Cracker Barrel, but his efforts at Steak 'n Shake shouldn't be missed: The company added nearly $40 million in sales last year over 2012 and bumped its unit count by 22 stores.
Some CEOs take their brands to the top of the industry, others to the top of the world. Church's CEO Jim Hyatt served as the ultimate brand ambassador when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last fall and posed for a picture with a Church's Chicken flag. Now that he's made it to the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, though, he has some work to do with the brand. Church's slid down the QSR 50 rankings as it lost about $15 million in sales from 2012 and four net units.
The master of the take-and-bake pizza art gave its concept a fresh spin in 2013, debuting the "CREATE" store prototype that features an open kitchen layout to put the ingredient prep process on display, digital menuboards, and more opportunity for guest customization. The new prototype, which has been incorporated into a handful of locations around the country, dressed up Papa Murphy's for the national spotlight, which it earned when it filed for its initial public offering in March.
The sister double drive-thru chains managed to jump a few spots up the QSR 50 rankings, even with a meager $27 million systemwide sales increase. All the same, it's impressive for a brand that almost exclusively has no dining rooms and that has been forced to get creative with its beef purchasing to manage value in an age of rising commodity costs.
Long John Silver's
Seafood is enjoying a limited-service renaissance, with its nutritious profile and sustainability message increasingly resonating with the consuming public. So far, though, it seems to be rooted mostly in the fast-casual space, with traditional brands like Long John Silver's still struggling to maintain relevance. But Long John Silver's is actively reasserting itself, having removed trans fats from its menu late last year and using the rollover into 2014 to introduce a big new marketing campaign, "Think Fish," that encourages folks who would otherwise eat chicken or beef to give seafood another shot.
What do coffee, pie, red velvet cake, brownie batter, and salted caramel all have in common? They've all found their way into Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the last year and a half, joining a long roster of specialty flavors that cycle through the menu throughout the year. Between those menu LTOs and free-doughnut promotions like those surrounding "Talk Like a Pirate Day" and "National Doughnut Day," Krispy Kreme knows how to get fans' attention.
Fifty years in and Del Taco's still holding its own as the No. 3 limited-service brand in the Mexican category. A 2013 brand refresh—which included two new menus, Buck & Under and New Tastes, as well as a new "UnFreshing Believable" tagline—ushered in a slew of new menu items, including the Crunchtada Tostada and Crunchtada Pizzas; the Epic Burritos, which strayed from the brand's cheaper-price point stance at $4.99 and were between 14 and 18.5 ounces; Turkey Tacos; and the Breakfast Tacos, which debuted shortly after Taco Bell launched its first breakfast menu.
It may not top the burger category in sales, nor in AUV, unit counts, or social media. But White Castle is the only burger concept that now lays claim to the title "Most Influential Burger Ever," a title bestowed upon it by Time magazine. Now the Columbus, Ohio–based chain hopes to impart some of its influence in other parts of its concept; Grilled Chicken Sliders and Belgian Waffle Sandwiches joined the menu, and the corporate team unveiled a new store prototype that leverages touch-screen kiosks where customers can design and order their meals.
El Pollo Loco
The flame-grilled chicken chain cruised a few spots up the QSR 50 thanks to a series of limited-time offers, including the Chicken Mexican Cobb, Chicken Ranchero, Chicken Mole, and Ultimate Double Chicken Pollo Bowls; Puffy Shell Chicken Tacos; and shredded-beef Torta, Grande Tacos, and Stuffed Quesadilla entrées.
Quiznos can't seem to stanch the bleeding, still suffering after the dive that began some time around the recession. LTOs like the Toasty Pastas, Bourbon Steak Sub, and Surf 'n' Turf Salads couldn't stop Quiznos' systemwide sales from falling $237 million over 2012, or its unit count from dropping by another 531 units. For those keeping score at home, that's a $1.23 billion sales drop and 3,232-unit loss since Quiznos peaked in 2008, when it was No. 18 on the QSR 50. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
Not necessarily an obvious destination for healthier eating, Boston Market is doing its darndest to attract customers mindful of what they eat. The brand continued in its mission to cut sodium across its menu by 15 percent by the end of this year, while it also rolled out the new "Meals Under 550 Calories" menu, which hosts several low-calorie entrées and sides.
Qdoba Mexican Grill
Qdoba gave its fans the ability to engage with its loyalty program while they're on the go, developing a mobile-optimized version of the Qdoba Rewards program that allows guests to access, manage, and redeem rewards from any smartphone.
The Canadian brand is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but still keeping young. Tim Hortons has been rolling out a mobile payment program on smartphone devices, giving customers the ability to pay through the brand's TimmyMe smartphone application.
The Texas-based fast casual kept to its winning ways, once again slowly building its sales and unit count through a calculated growth strategy that includes embedding the restaurants in each community and serving health-minded meals.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Making a big leap from top Contender in last year's QSR 50 to No. 43 this year, Einstein Bros. found success in taking its concept to the nontraditional channels. It spent 2013 opening restaurants in college campuses, airports, medical centers, hospitals, train stations, and a casino.
No matter how strong the better-burger winds blow, In-N-Out, with its crazed fan base and deep-seeded brand affinity, keeps chugging along. The uber-popular burger joint tallied an 11-unit bump and $30 million systemwide sales climb in 2013.
Wingstop celebrates its second year on the QSR 50, and it might just be getting started. The Dallas-based brand enjoyed its best-ever year in 2013, and closed the year with development agreements in place for another 182 stores. This year marks its 20th anniversary, and Wingstop is using the year to focus more on East Coast expansion, including in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Seasonal flavor and product LTOs were the name of the game at Baskin-Robbins last year, helping the brand to slight bumps in systemwide sales and unit count. This year, the Dunkin' Brand partnered with Boardwalk Frozen Treats to put 16 flavors of packaged ice creams and ice cream bars on the shelves of retailers across the U.S.
Having used the last few years to diversify its menu mix, including with food options, Jamba Juice is now doubling down on its core smoothie and juice offerings. It launched a new line of Whole Food Nutrition smoothies, which are made with ingredients such as kale, carrots, chia seeds, and Greek yogurt, and expanded its fresh-squeezed juice to more than 500 stores.
Moe's Southwest Grill
Moe's is shifting into the next growth strategy gear, having launched its first national media campaign in 2013 and following it up with a website refresh and enhanced digital platform. The fast-casual Mexican brand is banking on the national exposure to help it build off 2013's success, which included a $46 million bump in systemwide sales and 45-store climb in overall unit count.
The 45-year-old, Nashville-based seafood chain is ready for a fresh start. Captain D's launched a new growth strategy this year that will increase its corporate-owned locations and further incorporate its "Beach Design" store prototype, which includes new menuboards, dinnerware, and equipment. The new stores will also highlight Captain D's new Fire-Grilled menu, which rolled out earlier this year and includes Shrimp Skewers, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Seasoned Tilapia, and Surf and Turf.
Pulling up the QSR 50 rear is first timer McAlister's Deli, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and has deals in place for 63 additional stores, including in new markets like New Jersey; Buffalo, New York; Orlando; Salt Lake City; and Boise, Idaho. Partnerships with lenders First Franchise Capital, Balboa Capital, and Franchise America Finance will help the company fund the growth.