A study by Market Force Information has named Panera Bread American consumers’ favorite sandwich chain, ahead of Jason’s Deli and McAlister’s Deli.
Boulder, Colo.-based Market Force surveyed 7,600 consumers in August, asking them to identify their favorite restaurant brands and to rate those chains’ performance among key attributes like taste, service, cleanliness, atmosphere and overall value. The total number of “favorite” votes each brand received was divided by that chain’s number of U.S. locations in order to normalize results in a study involving an industry giant like Subway and regional players like McAlister’s.
St. Louis-based Panera, which has 1,625 restaurants in the United States, had the greatest percentage of favorite votes indexed by system size, with 2.4 percent, compared with 2 percent for Jason’s Deli and 1.1 percent for McAlister’s, Market Force found.
Firehouse Subs was the No. 4 chain in the study, with 0.85 percent of the indexed vote, followed by Quiznos Sub with 0.57 percent and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches with 0.5 percent. Arby’s garnered 0.33 percent of the indexed vote, and Subway finished last with 0.28 percent.
Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer of Market Force, said Subway’s low finish in the indexed vote resulted from its significant lead in store count, with more than 24,000 franchises in the United States alone.
“Subway is the largest QSR chain, and that gives them the big advantage in ubiquity for people to select them, but then it becomes a large denominator,” Eden-Harris said. “If you have that large of a number, you need some really enthusiastic votes to overcome your size.”
In a separate study, she noted, Subway performed better in the sandwich segment among respondents who rated whether they would recommend the last brand they had visited — not necessarily their favorite restaurant chain, but the last one where they ate. Subway was not last in terms of recent customers recommending it to others, but it still trailed Panera, Jason’s Deli, Firehouse and Jimmy John’s.
On the other hand, Panera also has a sizeable unit count, though its indexed results led the category. Eden-Harris added that Panera also performed well in the separate study of recommendations from recent customers, with nearly two-thirds of those guests saying they would recommend the brand to another person.
In its most recent third quarter, Panera increased its same-store sales by 5.8 percent.
Panera’s success could be explained not only by how it fared in each attribute category of the survey, but also in the expectations consumers may have for the different brands, Eden-Harris said. For example, Panera had the top attribute score in the atmosphere category, with 52 percent of people rating the chain’s performance on that metric a 5 out of 5. Yet Panera finished in the middle of the pack on food quality and service, above average on cleanliness and tied for last on overall value.
Conversely, Subway’s 44-percent result in the overall-value category trailed only Jason’s Deli’s rating of 50 percent. Subway finished last or second to last in every other attribute.
While Subway’s positioning as a healthful brand and a value brand have fueled years of sales and unit growth, those attributes typically are not indicative of success in a study of favorite chains like this one, Eden-Harris said.
“When you ask a consumer, which is your favorite restaurant, they almost always don’t pick the value brand,” Eden-Harris said. “When you ask, why do you love going there, it’s not typically because it is fast or has a good value. Five Guys and In-N-Out aren’t cheap either, and burger aficionados love them. Folks on the other end of the value scope won’t necessarily get as many of those favorite votes.”
Meanwhile, McAlister’s Deli, Jason’s Deli and Firehouse Subs all performed consistently well across the five attributes measured in Market Force’s study. Jason’s had the highest scores for taste and cleanliness.
Jimmy John’s had the highest ratings for service, with 60 percent of those surveyed rating the 1,500-unit chain a 5 out of 5 on that metric. Eden-Harris said Jimmy John’s positioning as the delivery expert in the category largely influenced that result.
As it did for studies of the hamburger, pizza and Mexican segments, Market Force interviewed 7,600 consumers for the sandwich segment study. Half that sample reported household incomes of more than $50,000 per year. One-quarter of respondents were men and 75 percent were women, and the female-heavy skew reflects the fact that women make a majority of food purchasing decisions for households, Market Force said.
Half the respondents had children, and more than two-thirds were married, while 73 percent of respondents worked part- or full-time.