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Americans Have Been Feasting on Fast Food … and They Adore Chick-fil-A

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Chick-fil-A regained its 2019 ranking as the fast-food company with the strongest “brand intimacy.” (iStock/Paulbr)

With many restaurants shuttered during the pandemic, Americans have been scarfing down more hamburgers, pizza, chicken sandwiches and anything fast food. In fact, since the start of COVID-19 last March, daily fast-food consumption has increased by 37%, according to MBLM, a New York City-based brand marketing company.

Which brings us to fast-food brands and their emotional connections during the pandemic. Well, according to MBLM’s 2021 “Brand Intimacy COVID Study,” the fast-food industry placed sixth out of 10 industries in regard to how much fast-food brands emotionally connect with consumers. It might sound like a ho-hum ranking, but the fast-food industry’s performance increased 6% since the previous study. The fast-food industry also ranks No. 1 for what MBLM calls the “archetype of indulgence,” indicating that consumers turn to brands long associated with comfort, pleasure and pampering during challenging times.

Bet you can guess the fast-food operation that ranked first in emotionally connecting with consumers?

Yes, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A regained its 2019 ranking as the fast-food company with the strongest “brand intimacy,” which MBLM says is “the emotional science behind the bonds we form with the brands we use and love.” Chicago-based McDonald’s moved up one spot to second place in the study, while 2020’s top brand, Seattle-based Starbucks, moved to third. The remaining brands in the top 10 for the industry are KFC, Dunkin’, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.

“Despite daily consumption increases, the fast-food industry has been severely affected by stay-at-home orders and initial closings. However, consumers have been more emotionally connected to fast-food brands during the pandemic,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner for MBLM. “As we return to ‘normal’ life, fast-food brands should find a way to reference what we have all been through together and how they have reliably comforted us through this crisis.”

Despite restaurant closures during COVID, top intimate fast food brands continue to significantly outperform the leading brands in the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 indices across revenue growth, profit growth and stock price, MBLM stated.

Technology will likely continue to play a larger role in how consumers interact with fast-food brands, as many consumers prefer to order ahead, flag their arrival via their mobile phone and track deliveries. Brands that can lead with their digital experience and touchless delivery will also advance consumer relationships, MBLM stressed.

Additional significant fast-food industry findings in the study include:

• The fast-food industry ranks sixth in this study, maintaining its position from the 2020 and 2019 rankings.

• Fast food performs better with men than women and with younger consumers versus older ones.

• McDonald’s is the top brand for men, replacing Starbucks, while women prefer Chick-fil-A.

• Chick-fil-A exhibits significantly stronger associations in the fulfillment and indulgence archetypes, and leads across all three stages of sharing, bonding and fusing.

MBLM also analyzed the industry in an article entitled, “Our Connection to Fast Food During the Pandemic.” The piece looks at how the industry provided comfort during these trying times, as well as how brands spoke to consumers, with safety, affordability and business objectives being among the top themes.

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