It’s been quite a roller coaster year for the quick-service industry. Restaurants continued to dig out of the economic mess, posting modest improvements; the affluent decided to drop in, providing a boost to the QSR segment’s bottom line; and there were plenty of product – and idea – innovations, from food trucks to footlong hot dogs and everything in-between.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, however. Quick-service giants endured the gamut, from a massive recall of a seemingly harmless promotion, to a salmonella outbreak and a kids’ meal ban.
We have decided to accentuate the positive with a look at the 10 most intriguing ideas from the past year, in no particular order:
1. Smooth sailing – McDonald’s continues its food and beverage juggernaut, introducing a line of real fruit smoothies to its wildly successful McCafe line. This idea has helped position the company against fast casual brands such as Jamba Juice.
2. Toot toot – Big names jumped on the food truck bandwagon including Dairy Queen, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr. and Subway. The trucks provided an innovative way to expand restaurants’ reach while cutting costs.
3. Cool treat – MaggieMoo’s has successfully tricked our brains with its Maggie Mia’s Ice Cream Pizza. The first place winning product in the Creative and Innovative Products category during the 2010 World Dairy Expo actually resembles a pizza. However, it’s made up of MaggieMoo’s Udderly Cream ice cream, red icing, white chocolate curls, M&Ms, cherry disks, crushed Heath Bar and crushed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
4. When It’s Real – Wendy’s new natural-cut, sea salt covered french fries may not be the best choice for our healthier appetites, but it’s a bold step for the company to change a menu staple in the middle of a brand revival. And they taste pretty good.
5. Free for all – The Coca-Cola Company’s proprietary Freestyle machine expanded its rollout this year, offering up 106 varieties of beverages, including derivatives of the classics. As beverages continue to garner a big share of QSR sales, this technology offers as customized a drink as you can get.
6. Burgers share the spotlight – While the QSR niche was carved by the classic American hamburger, plenty of other players have made a big splash in the market with signature items that are a bit less traditional. This year harbored the launch or growth of many such unorthodox concepts, from Arabic to crepes to Latin.
7. Winning campaign – Marketing is certainly not an easy concept, especially for a frugal and unpredictable demographic. QSRs grapple with ideas, slogans, images, everything it takes to come up with the perfect message to intrigue the masses. One of the best taglines to go global this year is KFC’s “So Good” campaign. Although it was the fifth messaging change for the company in recent years, it is simple, tasteful and surprisingly catchy. And, unlike the brand’s promotion of its Double Down sandwich on the backsides of female co-eds, it’s not over-the-top obnoxious.
8. Sweet as sugar – Tea made a big splash this year, ranking first as the National Restaurant Association’s nonalcoholic beverage trend. Popeyes launched its Cane Sweeeet Tea in the summer and was the first QSR brand to offer the beverage with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.
9. What Would Jared Do? He’d probably get his day started at his beloved Subway, because he now can. The chain jumped into the breakfast game in the spring, offering healthy options such as the Fresh Fit Egg White Muffin Melts – each under 180 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.
10. Customer’s always right … And now chains have more opportunities than ever to listen to them, thanks to the rapid saturation of social media. Some companies – such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts – have leveraged this vehicle for promotions and marketing, item launches and even product development. Others, including Burger King and Arby’s, were slower to the game and felt the effects.
- Love and marriage, horse and carriage, burgers and beer … BK’s Whopper Bar concept continues to expand at a leisurely pace.
- Portion control – Dairy Queen finally gave fans what they were asking for; a smaller version of its signature Blizzard. the Mini Blizzard was launched in the summer behind strong demand, and is about half the size of a regular 12-ounce Blizzard.
- India, The next QSR frontier – This year alone, Yum! announced plans to triple its units in the country; Subway extended its nontraditional footprint there; and McDonald’s made a big investment to boost the drive-thru count.
- The return of an icon – The McDonald’s McRib returned nationwide for only the third time in its history, boosting the company’s November’s sales and inciting pork mania across the country. Its cult-like status yielded numerous fan-driven Facebook pages, a Twitter account and a McRib Locator.
What’s next For 2011:
- More chains will continue to modernize their design/layout;
- QSRs will continue expanding internationally, even smaller chains;
- QSRs will invest heavily in the installation of digital menu boards both indoors and out;
- Mobile payments will be accepted at a number of locations;
- QSRs will continue trying to find the right formula in creating in-demand, “healthier” menu items.
Top New Restaurant Concepts for 2011
Contact us for the list at gsnyder@GTSStrategyPartners.com