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NEW YORK -- Panera Bread is American consumers' sandwich chain of choice, according to a new study by Market Force Information. The Boulder, Colo.-based firm surveyed 7,600 consumers in August 2012, asking them to identify their favorite restaurant brands and rate their performances based on factors such as taste, service, cleanliness, atmosphere and overall value, according to a Nation's Restaurant News report.
Each brand's total number of "favorite" votes was divided by its number of U.S. locations to normalize results and rate nationwide and regional chains fairly. Panera had the greatest percentage of votes indexed by system size.
The top-rated sandwich chains indexed by unit count are:
1. Panera Bread (2.38 percent)
2. Jason's Deli (1.99 percent)
3. McAlister's Deli (1.10 percent)
4. Firehouse Subs (0.85 percent)
5. Quiznos (0.57 percent)
6. Jimmy John's (0.50 percent)
7. Arby's (0.33 percent)
8. Subway (0.28 percent)
Subway's low placement on the list is due to its significant lead-in store count, said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. Subway has more than 24,000 franchises within the U.S.
"Subway is the largest QSR (quick-service restaurant) chain, and that gives them the big advantage in ubiquity for people to select them, but then it becomes a large denominator," Eden-Harris said. "If you have that large of a number, you need some really enthusiastic votes to overcome your size."
Subway performed better in the sandwich segment of a separate survey where consumers stated whether they would recommend the brand they visited most recently, Eden-Harris noted, although it still placed after Panera, Jason's Deli, Firehouse and Jimmy John's.
Panera also saw positive results in the separate survey, with two-thirds of its recent customers stating they would recommend the brand. Consumer expectations for different brands may make a difference, Eden-Harris stated; Panera had the top attribute score in the atmosphere category, but finished in the middle of the pack for food quality and service, above average for cleanliness and tied for last in overall value, according to the report.
"When you ask a consumer, which is your favorite restaurant, they almost always don't pick the value brand," Eden-Harris said. "When you ask, why do you love going there, it's not typically because it is fast or has a good value. Five Guys and In-N-Out aren't cheap either, and burger aficionados love them. Folks on the other end of the value scope won't necessarily get as many of those favorite votes."
Of the 7,600 surveyed, half the respondents reported household incomes of more than $50,000 per year; half had children; more than two-thirds were married; and 73 percent worked part-time or full-time.
Additionally, 75 percent of those surveyed were women and 25 percent men, which Market Force stated reflects the fact that women make the majority of purchasing decisions for the household.