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How Consumer Sentiment About the Fast Food Industry Has Been Affected by the Pandemic

How Consumer Sentiment About the Fast Food Industry Has Been Affected by the Pandemic

Starbucks ranked number one in the fast food industry followed by Chick-fil-A and McDonald's.

The fast food industry ranked sixth out of the 15 industries studied in MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2020 Study, which is the largest study of brands based on emotions. MBLM (pronounced Emblem) – the agency using emotional science to build more intimate brands during these unprecedented times – also analyzed how consumer sentiment about the industry has been affected by the pandemic.

Brand Intimacy is defined as the emotional science that measures the bonds consumers form with brands. It has become more important as brands adjust the way they connect with consumers during the pandemic.


Related: Fast Food and Restaurant Chains that are Downsizing in 2020


MBLM’s study, now in its tenth year, revealed that Starbucks ranked number one in the fast food industry followed by Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s. The remaining brands in the top ten for the industry were Dunkin’, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

MBLM also examined how the industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC International, Inc., filed for bankruptcy due to shutdowns, which added to the competitive stress the brand had been facing. On the other hand, Domino’s saw comparable-store sales increase by over 20 percent in April and May and its stock was up 26 percent for 2020 as of July.

The fast food industry also gave back during the pandemic. For example, Chick-fil-A created a $10.8 million community relief effort in April, through which it provided funds to franchisees to distribute to local communities in need. Starbucks launched its Global Partner Emergency Relief Program in April to help its employees impacted by the pandemic.

MBLM further analyzed the industry in an article entitled, “Fast Food & COVID-19. How consumers are talking about their favorite fast food brands during the pandemic.” The piece reviewed the industry’s performance in the study and the impact of the pandemic. The agency found that, while the brands spoke in generally similar terms about their responses to COVID-19, consumers spoke differently about each brand on social media.

Starbucks’ users demonstrated a lot of emotion for the brand. Chick-fil-A’s users spoke about service and reliability with a few expressing disappointment about the brand adapting to COVID-19, but overall the brand was strongly linked to being efficient. McDonald’s was not seen as positively as it was viewed as a big corporation caring about profits and not protecting employees.

MBLM questioned what will happen with the industry as states reopen, close and reopen in varying degrees. The agency concluded that it seems likely consumers will remember and continue to deepen their emotional attachments with the brands in this space as they continue to evolve their offerings and provide the indulgence many crave.