Which chain's fast food do consumers like best?

Surprise -- it's Wendy's, and by a wide margin. Its performance underscores the challenges facing McDonald's.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 25, 2013 1:27PM
An employee pours a soft drink at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Moscow, Russia, on April 5, 2013 (© Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images)If the fast-food business held a popularity contest, Wendy's (WEN) would win hands down.

According to data from Technomic, a food industry market researcher and consultant, the Dublin, Ohio-based chain was preferred by consumers over Burger King (BKW) and McDonald's (MCD), in food quality and taste and flavor. It wasn't even close.

Wendy's was rated excellent by 50.9% of consumers for food quality compared with 44.2% for Burger King and 37.4% for McDonald's, according to Technomic Consumer Brand Metrics. The numbers for food taste and flavor were just as stark. Wendy's scored 56.5% in that category, surpassing Burger King's 49.4% and McDonald's 40.7%. The data are based on interviews with consumers who have visited the chains within the last 30 days.

Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior vice president for communications, told MSN Money that the company wasn't aware of the Technomic findings but nonetheless found them "gratifying." The chain is in the midst of a "brand transformation" that's changing everything from its crew uniforms to its menu.

"Our mission is to be a cut above the competition," he said, adding that Technomic is "well-known and highly respected" in the restaurant industry. "Every day, you have to satisfy each individual customer."

Officials from McDonald's and Burger King couldn't be reached for comment. In the eyes of Wall Street, though, McDonald's is still the fast-food champ. Its shares have jumped more than 15% this year, compared with 12.2% for Burger King and 2.2% for Wendy's.

Wendy's is benefiting from a marketing campaign that stresses the freshness of its food as opposed to its low cost, which rivals such as McDonald's highlight, according to Darren Tristano, a Technomic vice president.

Wendy's share of the fast-food market grew at a compound annual growth rate of 1.6% between 2006 and 2012, according to Technomic. Burger King's share grew at 0.4% during that same time, while McDonald's posted a 4.6% gain. On that basis, McDonald's had a 47.6% share of the market, while Burger King and Wendy's each held 17.5%.

Technomic's data underscore the problems facing McDonald's, which reported a decline of 1.1% in same-store sales in its most recent quarter and warned that it faced a "challenging" global environment. Heightened competition also is affecting the Golden Arches.

For instance, Burger King is expanding its test of delivery service that it first offered last year in Washington, D.C., to Houston, Miami and New York, according to media reports. The company is due to report its latest earnings Friday. Analysts are forecasting profit of 17 cents per share on revenue of $318.67 million. Wendy's is scheduled to report its latest earnings on May 8.

As for McDonald's, Tristano cautions against underestimating the Oakborok, Ill.-based giant.

"Lots of restaurants struggled in the first quarter," he said. "It's hard to criticize them. . . . They have been very innovative in snacking and beverages."

Indeed, Micky D's probably has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. But then again, so do its rivals.

Jonathan Berr owns a small position in McDonald's. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Apr 25, 2013 2:24PM
IMO, Wendy's is winning for 2 reasons:

1) They aren't trying to get into the specialty coffee market or transforming their restaurants into stupid looking "McCafes".  They make good burgers and salads and they are focusing on what they do best, not what seems trendy at the moment.

2) Wendy's has more options for sides.  Instead of just fries, you can get a baked potato, chili or a salad.
Apr 25, 2013 2:08PM
Completely agree.  I haven't eaten a burger from McDonald's in over 15 years.  On the rare occasion I eat fast food and I'm in the mood for beef, Wendy's is the only choice of the major chains.
Apr 25, 2013 3:15PM
They would be my first choice. Mc D always last.
Apr 25, 2013 3:25PM
Whatever you do Wendy's, don't do away with your North Pacific Cod fillet ... it is by far the best fish fillet on the market anywhere ... and by a far margin as well!
Apr 25, 2013 3:55PM
The reason Wendy's is better is simple.  They serve their burgers fresh off the grill.  The other two have them sitting in a drawer in greasy slim until they heat them up in a microwave.
Apr 25, 2013 3:42PM
I agree but I do miss the old fries!

Apr 25, 2013 3:23PM
I like Wendy's although their 'new' over-salted fries kind of suck.
Apr 25, 2013 3:58PM
Apr 25, 2013 3:42PM
I eat at burger king once a year. Every time I do I am disappointed. The food is cold  or it just doesn't have any flavor. No I don't eat at the same one every time. If Wendy's brought back the mega bar I think that would even bring in more customers. McDonalds needs to get back to the basics in stead of all this McCafe stuff. If I want to go to a cafe I go to a cafe. If I go to a burger joint I want a burger.
Apr 25, 2013 3:26PM
the chili omg sooo good and the bacon burger makes me so happy. and they now serve a very close approximation of the DQ blizzard there for those in towns that no longer have DQ its so close in fact that they should just call it a DQ blizzard by Wendy's IMHO this adds greatly to the reasons i like wendys better than mcdonalds
Apr 25, 2013 3:48PM
Mcdonalds burgers plain out suck.. They taste horrible and are tiny.    Wendys is grilled, never frozen meat, it has great taste and its size is great.

Burger king has great burgers, but one thing that ticks me off about them is that they changed their french fries container.   They are all circular at the bottom now.  I got a large fry and my dad got a medium fry, and we cant even tell the difference between sizes. The amount of fries looked the same too.
Clever of the company to try to increase its revenue.   Lets charge people the same money and give them less product.

Just like these new King size snickers bars..  They come in 2 pieces now.. How genius to make money.  By splitting one candy bar into two pieces , you now reduce the total amount of product in a package.  Saves the company money, and the consumer pays the same.
Im so Sick of greed.

Apr 25, 2013 3:56PM
It's not a surprise.  Wendy's has been a women's favorite for many years.  They were the first ones to offer something other than burgers.
Apr 25, 2013 2:56PM
If you want to know why your kids are so fat, just keep feeding them those Happy Meals
Apr 25, 2013 4:07PM
In n Out Burger is number 1. Nobody beats there hamburgers. McDonalds is horrible. 
Apr 25, 2013 3:49PM
their burgers are certainly better than McDs or BK. Their fries could use another 10-15 seconds in the fryer to get more crispy.
Apr 25, 2013 4:33PM
The results aren't a surprise for anyone over the age of 20. Wendy's has been among the top for years in taste and quality. For years Wendy's was the choice of over 40 because of the quality of the food.
Apr 25, 2013 3:36PM
For a fast food burger, I prefer Five Guys.  McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's all pale in comparison.
Apr 25, 2013 6:38PM
Wendy's is a good choice, other top fast food places have a few items that are good.
Apr 25, 2013 4:27PM
Wendy's is awesome! A Classic Double combo w/ Wendy's chili kicks any other combo's buns (Yes, I meant to say that). The only thing I ask out of Wendy's: PLEASE BRING BACK THE "W" BURGER!!!!!! Oh man, those were awesome! I had a taste for a "W' , went in to Wendy's to get one, and walked right out cause the girl at the counter said they stopped serving it. Bummer!
Apr 25, 2013 4:08PM
I love Wendy's food and service.  The price doesn't dictate where or what I will eat.  Garbage is free for those of you who want a real bargain.
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