Market Force identifies elements of chain success in latest Mexican QSR study
A recent restaurant industry survey by Market Force of 7,600 consumers uncovered important attributes of consumers in the Mexican QSR (Quick-serve restaurant) category and of the perceptions of chains in consumers' minds. The top chain was Chipotle, followed by Baja Fresh. Moe's Southwest Grill took third place and was also top-ranking in two of the most important attributes for consumers: service and overall value.
For El Pollo Loco and Del Taco, the news was also uplifting ─ both chains ranked second and third, respectively, in overall value, beating the perceived "more upscale" Mexican-style chains of Chipotle, Baja Fresh and Qdoba in that category. Overall findings indicate, however, that consumers are looking for more than value and are now focusing on higher-quality ingredients and fresh food, according to Market Force.
Also, earlier this year, trend-tracking and product development firm CCD Innovation identified "fresh" as a high-ranking descriptor and label for restaurants to use on their menu and marketing messages. Beyond describing food as fresh, QSRs now understand that there is a higher "price to play" in serving quick-serve food ─ and that price is "fresh." Ingredients that engender this notion of fresh are fresh fruits and vegetables, better cuts of meat, recipes that are prepared in-house, and, for baked products and desserts, artisan craftsmanship and preparation.
Janet Eden-Harris, Sr. VP, Strategy, for Market Force, author of this latest study, tellsQuick Serve Leader, "I think across all QSRs, those brands that ranked highest for food quality tended to be overall favorites. But there is a bit of a caution: great taste makes you my favorite, but it doesn't mean I go there all the time if other considerations come into play like cost and speed of service. Each brand distinguishes itself along specific attributes we care about."
She notes the five attributes that consumers were asked about by Market Force as being important for success. (See Chart A.)
The ideal, says Eden-Harris, is to score high on both taste and value. The leading Mexican chains are taking different approaches and focusing on where they need it: Taco Bell is working to improve food dimension, she notes, while others like Chipotle and El Pollo Loco are working toward speed of service.
The food truck craze and the accompanying global cuisine that it's bringing are increasing competition in ethnic cuisine. However, as our own survey of experts concluded and a recent report by Technomic, Inc. – a research and consulting firm based in Chicago – suggests, this "ethnic cuisine" trend for all segments of the restaurant industry is going to continue into 2013.
Technomic's survey suggests that when consumers want to try something new, they turn to ethnic cuisine. Nearly 60 percent of respondents cite this as a reason for trying ethnic cuisine and flavors.
Take Mexican QSR and how it has shaped our own understanding of the flavors that ethnic cuisine can provide. Understandably, Mexican QSR chains must perform well and be top-of-mind choices for consumers since they now compete against Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mediterranean, etc. Market Force's survey ranked Chipotle as first in food quality/taste, and Qdoba and Baja Fresh as second- and third-ranked, respectively. (See Chart A.)
Moe's Southwest Grill took top score in the service category in Market Force's study, followed by Qdoba and Chipotle (See Chart A also). Market Force notes that the survey was skewed toward women, who represented 75 percent of respondents, and half of those participating had annual household incomes of more than $50,000.
Leading Mexican chains like El Pollo Loco have beefed up leadership to improve service and operational scores. Pollo Campero and Pollo Tropical have remodeled stores, and improved new store designs, giving exteriors and interiors a more modern look, and have implemented quasi-table-service.
Some chains have also implemented real flatware, following cues from Boston Market, Panera Bread and Italian fast casual chain restaurants. Others are running food to the tables after food is ordered at the counter, refilling drinks and taking tableside incremental food and dessert orders.
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