Chipotle Mexican Grill emerged as consumers' favorite Mexican restaurant chain in the United States, according to a segment report from consumer research firm Market Force Information.
Boulder, Colo.-based Market Force polled 7,600 people in August, asking them to identify their favorite restaurant chains in six categories from among dozens of brands. The firm’s first report found that Five Guys Burgers and Fries led all restaurant chains in the hamburger category. For the Mexican segment, Chipotle garnered the highest percentage of respondents identifying it as their favorite restaurant, and the results for the study were indexed by each chain’s system size.
Chipotle received 24 percent of the total votes for respondents' favorite Mexican restaurant chain, actually coming in behind Taco Bell, which amassed 38 percent of the raw vote. However, when total votes were divided by the number of units for each chain — including more than 6,000 for Taco Bell and more than 1,300 for Chipotle — to index results, Chipotle earned the No. 1 ranking, with 2 percent of indexed favorite votes.
Taco Bell fell to No. 8 when results were indexed, earning 0.46 percent of the vote.
Other fast-casual chains Baja Fresh and Moe’s Southwest Grill finished second and third, respectively, with 1.7 percent and 1.4 percent of the indexed vote. Taco Cabana, Qdoba Mexican Grill, El Pollo Loco and Taco John’s finished No. 4 through No. 7, respectively, and Del Taco came in ninth place.
Indexing votes by system size tends to affect major chains like Taco Bell negatively, said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer of Market Force. But while Chipotle, with more than 1,300 units, is no small chain, its popularity withstood the process better.
“When you start to look at Chipotle’s number of locations, you’d think they’d drop, but they’re so popular,” Eden-Harris said. “Taco Bell of course has a lot more locations, and that dropped them down quite a bit.”
Denver-based Chipotle achieved that favored status by performing solidly across several attributes, especially food quality and cleanliness, for which the greatest percentage of survey respondents said Chipotle deserved a 5-out-of-5 rating. It also had the third-highest attribute ratings for service and atmosphere, behind Moe’s and Qdoba.
Chipotle finished sixth in the nine-chain peer group for overall value, just behind Taco Bell, which scored last place in every attribute category except for overall value. Moe’s had the highest percentage of people rating it a 5 for overall value, followed by El Pollo Loco and Del Taco, which tied for second.
No one category overly influenced the final rankings, Eden-Harris said, as even consistent performers had one category where they fell in the middle of the pack, such as Chipotle in overall value or Baja Fresh for atmosphere.
“There is a nice even mix on the attribute scores,” Eden-Harris said. “I don’t know if one category really drives results.”
She noted, however, that the ratings for the taste and quality of Taco Bell’s food were the second-highest attribute for the Irvine, Calif.-based brand. “I do think that indicates people going to Taco Bell frequently are liking more of what they’re seeing, because quality of food is getting ranked higher than fast service and atmosphere,” Eden-Harris said.
A recent consumer perception poll from YouGov BrandIndex found that guests have begun viewing Taco Bell’s food quality more positively since it introduced Cantina Bell. Market Force’s survey period in August was the first full month of the Cantina Bell menu rollout, and Taco Bell recently announced it would extend that line to include a quesadilla and a new steak recipe starting in November.
In Market Force’s report, 34 percent of people who named Taco Bell their favorite Mexican chain rated the brand’s food quality a 5 out of 5, which made that attribute second only to its overall value, which 39 percent of the same respondents rated 5 out of 5.
Market Force said its 7,600 survey respondents contained a variety of income levels, with half of that sample reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. One quarter of respondents were men and 75 percent were women, and 73 percent of respondents worked full- or part-time. Half the respondents had children, and more than two thirds of them were married.