Special Report | August 2015 | By Mary Avant

The Contenders

The 15 brands that came just short of the QSR 50.
Top upcoming QSR brands on verge of restaurant success.
Auntie Anne’s refreshed the brand with a new store prototype. auntie anne’s
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The evolution of the limited-service restaurant industry continued in 2014, as traditional powerhouses faltered while fast casuals and other rising concepts asserted themselves as forces to be reckoned with. For the first time in the history of the QSR 50, a fast casual entered the top 10, as Panera Bread leapfrogged KFC to land a spot in the industry elite. Meanwhile, Subway ceded the No. 2 spot to Starbucks after an $800 million sales tumble, Chick-fil-A grew by $700 million to become larger than every pizza brand in the country, and Wingstop claimed the biggest jump of the year, with an 11-spot leap.

The Contenders, meanwhile, witnessed less upheaval than the QSR 50. Though there are a few new faces in the lineup—including Marco’s Pizza and Schlotzsky’s—this year’s crowd of Contenders is pretty familiar, with brands like Auntie Anne’s, Cold Stone, and Krystal still unable to crack or return to the QSR 50. Here’s what they were up to in the last year.

Click column headers to sort
Ranksort ascendingCompany/Chain Name2014 U.S. Systemwide Sales (Millions)2014 U.S. Average Sales per Unit (thousands)Number of Franchised Units in 2014Number of Company Units in 2014Total Units in 2014Total Change in Units from 2013
51 (tie)Auntie Anne's$488.2$555.01,073161,089112
51 (tie)Quiznos *$488.2$370.01,19641,200-239
53Noodles & Co. 1$465.1$1,147.05338643959
54McAlister's Deli$459.0$1,536.82934433716
55CiCi's Pizza$441.6$946.146322485-38
56Krystal *$408.3$1,157.01272283556
57Cold Stone Creamery$366.5$387.89341194545
58Corner Bakery Cafe$355.7$2,235.67011418425
59Au Bon Pain$354.6$2,057.0741362100
60Potbelly *$332.6$1,185.01733435144
61Taco John's *$328.8$825.03831039311
62Marco's Pizza *$310.9$620.05700570137
63Pollo Tropical$307.5$2,720.03712416120
64Taco Cabana$303.7$1,831.071671742
*Includes figures estimated by Technomic Inc.

51. TIE

Auntie Anne’s

In May 2014, the pretzel concept put a twist on its prototype with the first store redesign in brand history, featuring the look and feel of a home kitchen with a warmer color palette, more prominent brand messaging, and upgraded back-of-house equipment. The brand also launched its My Pretzel Perks mobile loyalty app, while opening its 13th theme park unit at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida. The result: A system-wide sales increase of more than $40 million year over year.

51. TIE


Tumbling 13 spots, Quiznos continued its collapse in 2014, falling off the QSR 50 for the first time since 2002. The sandwich brand spent much of 2014 closing more franchise units, which helped its AUV climb slightly higher over 2013. The good news? Its international business continues to soar. The company is aiming to open more than 1,000 units in 40 countries by the end of the decade, targeting markets in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Abu Dhabi, among other countries. It also inked the largest franchise deal in history earlier this year, signing up to open 1,500 units in China.


Noodles & Co.

After making a stock market splash with its 2013 IPO, Noodles & Co. expanded its noodle offerings outside the unit, rolling out a nationwide catering program last July that features buffet-style meals for $12 per person. The brand also made some moves on the purchasing front, buying out 16 franchise units for more than $13 million, largely concentrated in the Indianapolis area.


McAlister’s Deli

Though it fell from its No. 50 spot in the QSR 50, McAlister’s did have something to celebrate in 2014: its 25th anniversary. It also signed development deals in markets ranging from New York and Chicago to Arizona and Texas, while recruiting former Cosí CEO Carin Stutz as brand president in mid-November.


CiCi’s Pizza

CiCi’s continues to slide down the QSR 50 and Contenders ranks, but a busy 2014 may have it moving back up as soon as next year. Undergoing a major brand revamp to bring its focus back to quality, cleanliness, and service, CiCi’s launched the “Remarkable Product Movement” rebrand that resulted in a cleanliness initiative, menu innovations, and ingredient upgrades. Leading the efforts was a new CMO, former Sbarro exec Sarah McAloon, who also helped roll out social media and TV ads to support the efforts.