In today’s rapidly-changing fast food industry, some consumers are hungry for healthier food options while others only care about taste. Bigger isn’t always better. That’s why McDonald’s burgers were just named worst in America in Consumer Reports’ new fast-food survey.
The results of Consumer Reports’ fast-food survey are based on responses from 32,405 subscribers about more than 96,200 dining experiences at 65 hamburger, Asian, pizza, sandwich, chicken, and Mexican fast-food and fast-casual chains.
When it comes to satisfying today’s fast-food consumer, brands like KFC and Sbarro earned some of the lowest scores in the survey. The reason is simple: advertising campaigns, content, and food products have been addressing a diminishing audience of consumers. Executing the same marketing strategies from decades ago only work against these brands today. Literally, these consumers are dying off and a new group of consumers is demanding more food quality over low price as a deciding factor.
More importantly, advertising doesn’t reflect the actual food being offered. Check out this image of Subway’s Chipoltle Steak & Cheese with Avocado — it’s the ultimate case of marketing vs. reality.
So brands are not delivering on the marketing promise. And in this era of preference marketing, in which consumers have so many options, the marketing promise must align with the reality of the deliverable. Now take another look at those two sandwiches.
Importantly, a consumer’s perception of food quality doesn’t equate to healthier, it just means it tastes better. Just as consumers know what a great burger tastes like, they also know instantly when they consume a terrible one. The challenge with a brand like McDonalds is that after 100 million hamburgers served since 1955, a sensory taste becomes embedded in the minds of billions of consumers. And while McDonlad’s remains the king of fast food, the tide can begin to shift as consumers take advantage of other preferred fast-food options.
Brands that have caught onto this new wave of fast-food consumers include Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Five Guys and Fuddruckers. These brands deliver value not necessarily by pushing healthier options, but by emphasizing food quality. For instance, when you think of better quality, better ingredients the brand that should come to mind is not Dominos but Papa John’s.
Despite what many brands think, putting healthier menu options on the menu will not move the consumer needle. Most fast-food consumers don’t go out to diet. In fact, only 20 percent of consumers look at the availability of healthful menu options when choosing a restaurant.
The lesson for all brands is to bring all marketing, product and service efforts back to the consumer. And if the majority of consumers say it doesn’t taste great – get on that. Giants in the fast-food industry are being threatened by newer brands that are capturing millions of consumers in today’s market faster than Burger King and others flourished in the past. So whatever your product or service, make sure your consumers are Lovin’ It.