Papa John’s earned #1 ranking among limited-service (aka fast-food or QSR) restaurant chains in the just-released 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) results for the category.
Papa John’s’ score of 83 (up 5.1% versus last year) was the highest-ever by a brand within the limited-service category — and it tied the score of 2012’s #1 full-service restaurant chain, Red Lobster. (ACSI’s full-service chain rankings were also just released.)
In fact, QSR chains’ overall satisfaction score rose 1.3%, to 80, even as full-service chains’ overall score declined 2.4% — putting them also at 80. This is the first time the two types of chains have had the same average score.
“This bodes well for fast food and should be a warning signal for full service,” observes analytics-driven customer feedback supplier CFI Group, whose platform employs the ACSI data. “The quality of the fast-food experience is improving, according to diners. Add to that the industry’s ability to price low in a weak economy, and it seems a safe bet that fast food will make further inroads into the traditional restaurant business.”
Among QSR chains, Subway (covered by ACSI for the first time this year) and Little Caesar (+2.5%) follow Papa John’s, with 82 scores.
The rest of the rankings: Dunkin’ Donuts (79); Pizza Hut (78); Wendy’s (78); Domino’s Pizza (77); Taco Bell (77); Starbucks (76); KFC (75); Burger King (75) and McDonald’s (73).
Pizza Hut’s score declined by 3.7%, but it’s still in the top five, and still beating all of the burger chains, notes CFI.
Dunkin’, also being tracked for the first time, is three points ahead of Starbucks, which saw its score drop by 5%. (The satisfaction of Starbucks’ loyal fans is being dampened by rising prices, according to CFI.)
Wendy’s (+1.3%) is clearly outperforming Burger King (unchanged) and McDonald’s. But thanks to its expanded menu, remodeled stores and quality coffee, McDonald’s’ score is up 1.4% and at an all-time high (it was at 59 as of 2000, one of the lowest scores across all categories tracked by ACSI).
To justify their higher costs with ever-more-selective and frugal consumers, full-service restaurants have to distinguish themselves from one another, as well as from the much-improved QSR experience, points out CFI.
Outback Steakhouse, with an 81 score (flat with last year’s), is closest to Red Lobster’s 83 (+1.2%), followed by Olive Garden at 80 (down 2.4%).
Applebee’s debuts on the ACSI this year with a score of 77. Chili’s Grill & Bar, which has been at the bottom of the pack for several years, saw its score drop by 3.8% this year, to 76.
Consumers want a quick-and-easy way to identify products that are better for themselves and the environment, according to research firm Mintel.
About 40% of U.S. consumers say they look for symbols on the menu that denote an item is healthy, like a picture of a heart; and more than one-third (34%) of moms say they are spending more time than last year reading nutrition labels at the grocery store.
“Consumers are looking for shortcuts,” Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel’s director of innovation and insight, said in a presentation at the Food Marketing Institute Show in Dallas earlier this month.
If a product contains natural ingredients, they should be clearly explained on the package in an ingredient statement, she said. Method is doing just that with its Squeaky Green laundry detergent. The ingredient statement explains that the product contains “surfactants,” but then goes on to explain that they are derived from coconuts.
What’s more, retailers and manufactures need to understand “wellness” has a broad meaning to consumers. It goes well beyond dieting.
As examples, Dornblaser (right) cited Kroger’s private-label “Wholesome@ Home-brand” chilled macaroni and cheese, and Physicians Formula Organicwear 100% natural origin mascara.
Consumers are looking for eco-friendly products. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers said they bought a food/beverage with a claim on the package because they wanted to support brands that are helping the environment, according to a Mintel study.
Consumers respond well to products that are good to environment, but don’t require much of a change to their habits, she said.
Seventh Generation caters to such shoppers with its new Natural 4X Laundry Detergent, Dornblaser said. The product is packaged in a pouch located inside a bottle made from 100% recycled fiber. The entire packaging system (fiber bottle, pouch, spout and cap) uses 66% less plastic than a typical 100-ounce 2X laundry bottle — while delivering the same number of loads, according to Seventh Generation.
While it’s critical to tap into the wellness trend, retailers need to be careful not to overstep their bounds and come off as trying to tell consumers what to do.
“It’s important to be a partner with consumers; not a dictator,” she said.