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Consumers rate brands on perceived healthful image

When it comes to healthful eating, McDonald’s scores higher with its most influential, social-media-connected patrons than Subway does with its corresponding group of customers, according to recent market research.

However, both scored well below many fast-casual and casual brands, said a four-month-long study conducted by DigitalCoCo, a branding and social analytic firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The report on consumer habits measuring healthful dining said Monday that 22 percent of McDonald’s “tastemaker” customers view the burger brand as “healthy” and “fresh,” while 13 percent of that category of Subway users perceive the sandwich chain in the same terms.

Paul Barron, the founder of DigitalCoCo, defines tastemakers as people who determine or strongly influence trends or styles. He said his company calculated those users’ influence on the social media platforms of Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and Twitter using such criteria as the Klout analytical tool. Tastemakers have a Klout score of 40 or more, at least 500 Twitter followers and a high score on Social Insights, a DigitalCoCo social media measuring tool.

Tastemakers for each brand ate at those restaurants at least twice per month and reported on it using social media.

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In the fast-casual segment, Chipotle Mexican Grill scored highest, with 67 percent of its “tastemakers” viewing it as healthy and fresh, according to their social media comments. Chipotle was followed by Panera Bread and 50-unit upstart Freshii, each with 61 percent.

Jimmy John’s Sandwiches came in fourth, at 53 percent, followed by Pizza Fusion and Red Mango, each at 52 percent.

In the casual-dining sector, Olive Garden scored best at 40 percent, followed by P.F. Chang’s at 39 percent, The Cheesecake Factory at 35 percent, and Texas Roadhouse at 31 percent.

Across all demographics and categories, the restaurants that scored highest for “healthy and fresh” among tastemakers were Chipotle Mexican Grill at 74 percent, Panera Bread at 72 percent, Corner Bakery at 65 percent, Jimmy John’s at 61 percent and Pinkberry at 52 percent.

Barron will report his findings officially on Tuesday in Portland, Ore., at the Tastemaker Forum conference.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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