Sentiment of the Week: Bloat in the Fast Food Industry

By: Clarabridge Team

April 2, 2015

customer experience
customer experience management
Sentiment Analysis

What do you eat on a road trip, or when you’re in an unfamiliar area, and you just have to tie on a feed bag? What if you’re in a rush? Odds are, you’re going to take advantage of one of our country’s most prolific restaurants: a fast food chain.

Together, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and KFC account for a 39.4% share of the fast food market in the US. If you’re walking into a fast food joint, chances are good that you’re choosing from one of the above – and these restaurants offer a decent array of options, covering the classic American burger and fries, a wide range of chicken offerings, and several Tex-Mex flavors. In other words, fuel for the soul.

And good news for those of us looking to grab a quick bite without completely torpedoing our diets: each of these brands have rolled out health-conscious choices in recent years, hoping to appeal to a wider range of eaters and change the public perception of fast food as unhealthy.  But are these new offerings actually wiser choices for your waistband? And, just as importantly, are consumers convinced?


Among the brands surveyed, Wendy’s has by far the highest sentiment concerning the relative healthiness of its food, with 100 more comments concerning the topic than McDonald’s—the  second-most discussed chain. While sentiments were negative across the board, suggesting that consumers remain dubious as to whether or not anything these chains offer can be considered “healthy,” Wendys’ -0.42 score puts the classic burger retailer solidly at the head of the pack. At the other end of the graph, classic munchie fare KFC is barely in the conversation, with just 86 mentions of health value, and carries a negative reputation that is almost double that of industry leader Wendy’s.

Beyond a selection of salads that is ostensibly healthier than those from competing restaurants, Wendy’s offers a couple lessons. For one, they offer as many distinct salads (four), as anyone else that was surveyed – Taco Bell also offered four, and McDonald’s and Burger King each offered three; KFC has no salads on the menu, though they do offer baked chicken as an alternative to fried, and feature sides of green beans and cole slaw (which counts as a vegetable, maybe?). Wendy’s also seems to enjoy a national reputation for fresher and higher-quality food than many of its rivals, which surely factors in to the scoring.2015-192_sotw_fastfood_callout

A closer look at the menus involved provides yet another possible explanation. McDonald’s’ three salads are the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad, the Premium Southwest Salad, and a side salad (each has the option to add either crispy or grilled chicken). Burger King’s salads are the Chicken, Apple, and Cranberry Salad, the Chicken Caesar Salad, and a Garden Side Salad. So far, the healthiest sounding ­among those is the BK chicken/apple/cranberry creation, with the small side salads sounding light but unsatisfying.

The four Wendy’s offerings are as follows: Asian Cashew Chicken, BBQ Ranch Chicken, Apple Pecan Chicken, and Spicy Chicken Caesar. All sound high-quality, and two (Asian Cashew and Apple Pecan) don’t include any unhealthy tip-off words (ranch, Caesar, Southwest, bacon, etc). Notice, also, that none of these is a simple side salad; therefore, Wendy’s offers twice as many entrée salads as its direct competitors, and its offerings sound healthier. The answer to a higher sentiment, then, may lie with increased offerings and a little culinary creativity.

Learn more how to align your brand with your customer experience strategy by downloading the Forrester research report: How to Build Your Brand through Customer Experience.

Clarabridge’s blog, Sentiments, helps businesses incorporate customer sentiment and feedback into their business strategy. Published by Clarabridge, Sentiments speaks to customer experience professionals, marketers, customer care leaders and anyone who wants to make informed, strategic decisions that delight customers. Follow Sentiments on Twitter @Clarabridge.