COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the restaurant industry globally, with more than half of the brands in this year’s Brand Finance Restaurants 25 2021 ranking declining in brand value and the total value of the world’s top 25 most valuable restaurant brands dropping from US$162.1 billion in 2020 to US$153.9 billion in 2021.
Many governments responded to the outbreak of the pandemic by closing or severely curtailing the activities of the restaurant industry, meaning many brands had to undertake a complete overhaul in operating practices, with a renewed focus on drive-through, mobile ordering, and meal delivery services.
The restaurant sector has shown remarkable adaptability in the face of unforeseen and challenging circumstances brought about by COVID-19. The efforts to refocus on at-home dining and the investment in digital presence have inured many of the biggest brands from far more dire consequences. The pace of vaccine distribution - particularly across the US and the UK - means there are signs of hope yet for the restaurant sector, with many customers eager to return to socialising and dining together.Richard Haigh, Managing Director, Brand Finance
Starbucks cashes in
Starbucks has retained the title of the world’s most valuable restaurant brand for the 5th consecutive year, despite recording a 6% drop in brand value to US$38.4 billion.
The chain - which has over 30,000 stores globally, about half of which are in the US - used the pandemic to further differentiate itself from rivals and has adapted to focus on speed and convenience in its service. This includes ramping up the pace of the construction of ‘drive-thru’ stores, a renewed focus on a loyalty rewards scheme, and further integration of digital technology across the business – all of which are reflected in a surge in drive-through and mobile orders, accounting for 90% of all orders in the US in Q3 of last year.
The Seattle-based coffee chain stands out from the rest of the American brands in the ranking, which are predominantly focused on fast food. In recent years the brand has, however, expanded its culinary offering and thus is in good company amongst these food-focused brands.
American chains dine out on success
US fast food chains dominate the Brand Finance Restaurants 25 2021 ranking, claiming the first eight spots and 20 out of the total 25. Altogether, US brands account for a staggering 92% of the total brand value in the ranking.
This dominance reasserts the US’s status as the world leader in the fast-food industry. This is notable at a time when health-conscious marketing and regulation are increasingly debated and pursued, particularly in Western Europe. These brands’ continued dominance showcases the resilience and ongoing appeal of cheap, well-known, and often unhealthy food brands.
Beyond the scale and influence of American restaurant brands, the response of state-level governments in the US was broadly far less severe than in most other nations, with restrictions predominantly limiting indoor dining rather that in-restaurant dining entirely, meaning these brands could shelter themselves from the fallout of the pandemic more successfully.
Jack in the Box pops up
The fastest growing brand in the ranking is Jack in the Box, following an impressive 84% brand value growth to US$1.7 billion, simultaneously jumping 7 spots to 16th. The Californian brand was notable for its effective social media marketing campaigns throughout the pandemic – from encouraging customers to stay at home with its #StayInTheBox tag, to hosting a virtual prom for high school students.
The brand continued to provide a full menu and remain open 24 hours during the crisis and benefitted from its existing dining patterns, where 90% of its sales pre-pandemic were takeaways. Jack in the Box implemented emergency paid sick leave to employees and donated old uniforms to be converted into PPE.
Papa John’s gets a slice of the action
Papa John’s is the highest ranked newcomer in 19th, with a brand value of US$1.1 billion, and is the third highest ranked pizza brand after Dominos (up 7% to US$6.1 billion) and Pizza Hut (down 6% to US$5.1 billion) in 5th and 8th, respectively.
With consumer habits being forced to change towards delivery and collection, brands that are already set up to accommodate this under their operations have largely managed to shelter themselves somewhat from the damage of the pandemic. Papa John’s leveraged this change extremely effectively and recorded month after month of record sales throughout 2020 – delivering the best sales in the brand’s history.
Papa John’s, founded in Indiana in 1984, implemented a series of Covid-safe measures to ensure the continuation of business during the pandemic. This included contact-free delivery and an expanded benefits package for employees, including free virtual doctors’ appointments.
British pub chain Wetherspoon is the only bar or pub chain to feature in the ranking. Wetherspoons boasts a vast portfolio of over 900 pubs and hotels spanning the nation and is renowned for its bargain booze and often spectacular buildings. The brand and its outspoken chairman Tim Martin faced criticism for a lacklustre response to the pandemic and accusations of abandoning staff, as well as displaying ‘anti-lockdown propaganda’. Despite this controversy, the chain has fared remarkably well given the uncertainty that has plagued the British dining and hospitality sector over the past year, claiming 21st place in the ranking and maintaining its brand value of US$1.0 billion.
McDonald’s is lovin’ it
In addition to measuring overall brand value, Brand Finance also determines the relative strength of brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, customer familiarity, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation. According to these criteria, McDonald’s (down 10% to US$33.8 billion) remains the strongest restaurant brand in the world with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 86.9 out of 100 and a corresponding AAA brand strength rating.
With more than 38,000 restaurants in 118 countries, McDonald’s reach is unmatched. Its universally recognised ‘golden arches’ as well as advertising campaigns in recent years focused on the brand’s community outreach and ethical sourcing of its ingredients are key contributors to the brand’s strength.
In response to COVID-19, like many other restaurants, the chain renewed its focus on its ‘drive-thru’ and delivery capacity, as well as enhancing its digital presence. McDonald’s has also taken a proactive stance in terms of controlling the virus. Social distancing and hygiene measures are in force in restaurants globally. In US states where rules on indoor dining and mask wearing have been relaxed, McDonald’s has taken more stringent measures voluntarily, limiting in-store dining and mandating mask-wearing. Globally, the brand has donated US$3.1 million in food to support communities during the pandemic.