Which fast food chains are tops?

More Canadians cite McDonald's for best-tasting coffee than burgers

Canadians think A&W has the best-tasting burgers and Tim Hortons has the best-tasting coffee, according to a new survey by BrandSpark International. But when it comes to best-tasting food overall, Canadians are divided: there was a four-way between A&W, McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Wendy’s.

For its second annual “Best Restaurant Awards,” BrandSpark surveyed more than 8,500 Canadians about their favourite quick-service restaurants. Participants were asked to name the “best” in different categories and their responses were unaided.

“A big part of it is definitely brand awareness… so marketing spend does have an effect on this,” said Mark Baltazar, vice-president and partner at BrandSpark. “But, even [companies] that may be spending less are still getting accolades. So, part of it is marketing spend, as well as the impression that the brand has left on the minds of consumers.”

McDonald’s won or tied in 14 of the 28 categories, including winning “best for families with kids” and “best-tasting French fries,” and tying with Tim Hortons for “best breakfast.”

What is McDonald’s doing right? Baltazar suggested its history of innovation plays a big part, as well as its current focus on ingredients such as Canadian beef and real eggs. “They’re getting back to basics and that is being credited by consumers, so they are gaining some points there,” he said.

However, McDonald’s didn’t have as strong a showing as it did on last year’s survey. In 2014, McDonald’s was the clear winner in a number of categories, including best-tasting food overall. “While McDonald’s is still one of the top brands, we’re starting to see more ties this year,” said Baltazar. “The likes of A&W, Tim Hortons and Wendy’s are closing the gaps in certain categories.”

Interestingly, more people chose McDonald’s for best-tasting coffee than best-tasting burger. “You can definitely see the effect of an improved coffee program from McDonald’s,” said Baltazar. (The chain launched its McCafé brand of brewed coffee and espresso-based beverages in 2011, along with dedicated restaurant space for the McCafé concept.)

“The interesting thing is that when you think about brand positioning, you can’t be the best at everything,” added Baltazar. “If you start shining the light on one thing, you’re going to take your eye off something else. I think that’s happening [with McDonald’s].”

The best-tasting burger category was won by A&W for the second year in a row. “They’ve been talking about hormone-free and antibiotic-free for a number of years now, and that has really resonated with the consumer,” said Baltazar.

Also for the second year in a row, Tim Hortons won for best-tasting coffee by a margin of 20% over second place McDonald’s. Starbucks was tops in best-tasting specialty coffee, as it was in 2014.

Subway was the winner in the best-tasting healthy menu items category. “Subway’s strength in this area is a combination of consistent messaging and product innovation, all focused around their core proposition, which is fresh and healthy,” said Baltazar.

However, “other brands are nipping at its toes from a health perspective,” he added. “Pita Pit is a force to be reckoned with in Ontario… and Freshii, Extreme Pita, Mucho Burrito are starting to take points from Subway with regards to health. But Subway has such a strong lead, so there’s a long way to go for these smaller brands.”

BrandSpark also surveyed customers on best new menu items. The full list of winners can be found here.

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