- Chick-fil-A scored the strongest brand intimacy marks among quick-service restaurants, according to MBLM's Brand Intimacy COVID study, followed by McDonald's, Starbucks, KFC, Dunkin', Domino's, Pizza Hut, Subway and Wendy's.
- The study ranks brand intimacy as "the emotional science behind the bonds we form with the brands we use and love," according to a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive. Overall, the fast food industry placed sixth out of 10 industries, but the segment's overall performance improved by 6% since the previous study. Chick-fil-A also scored higher than any other fast food brand in MBLM's 2019 Brand Intimacy Study.
- MBLM finds that daily fast food consumption has increased by 37% since the beginning of the pandemic, underscoring consumers' reliance on the drive-thru channel as dine-in remains closed or at lower capacities across some markets.
Increased consumer interest in fast food has likely intensified the competitive landscape among QSRs. This MLBM ranking also comes as several brands pull a page from Chick-fil-A’s playbook by launching signature chicken sandwiches. Popeyes' chicken sandwich launch in 2019 became one of the most successful product rollouts in fast food history, for example, and the launch may have undermined some of Chick-fil-A's market share. Restaurant Business reported in September 2019 that Chick-fil-A customers who visited Popeyes increased by four percentage points in one month, for example.
Rival KFC's recent launch of its revamped chicken sandwich, which will be national by the end of February, could also prove challenging for Chick-fil-A. KFC has an edge over both Popeyes and Chick-fil-A in unit count — boasting 4,065 locations in 2019 vs. Chick-fil-A's 2,470 locations and Popeyes' 2,476 locations, according to data from Restaurant Business and Technomic. McDonald's (and its nearly 14,000 U.S. units), also plans to roll out an upgraded chicken sandwich in late February.
Still, Chick-fil-A's favorable brand sentiment score likely stems from more than just its chicken sandwich. The brand had invested in efficiency-focused technology initiatives well before the COVID-19 pandemic created urgency around such assets, poising it for success. In 2018, for example, it created a custom Restaurant Internet of Things platform to simplify operations and implemented a 3D camera to create a more efficient production line. The chain has also leveraged artificial intelligence to identify food safety issues and enhanced its popular loyalty program. According to MBLM, technology will likely continue to play a larger role in how we interact with fast food brands, stating that brands that can market their digital offerings and a touchless delivery experience will deepen consumer relationships.
Notably, Chick-fil-A's brand intimacy score also complements its customer satisfaction scores. The chain has been named the top limited-service restaurant on the American Customer Satisfaction Index for six straight years. In 2019, Chick-fil-A was rated the top fast food brand in terms of creating emotional engagement and loyalty, according to Brand Keys, and the top QSR for sincerity, excitement and competence, according to Zion & Zion. Chick-fil-A also became the third largest restaurant chain by sales in 2019, passing Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway within a year.