Love at First Bite? The Top 25 Most Loved Brands

It's not easy wooing today's consumers, but these brands are feeling the love. As consumer demand continues to shift and as consumers are becoming more educated and invested in the nature of their food service, they now have greater expectations. They long for greater ingredient and sourcing transparency, greater sustainability, greater culinary explorations, and greater brand storytelling.

And it's apparent that consumers want something different. Take a look at our latest Top 25 Most Loved Brands, updated as of May 1, 2017. The top three brands are all fast casual restaurants. Just last year, Taco Bell took the crown, landing in No. 1 in the 2016 Most Loved Brands ranking, with Chick-fil-A coming in third — two fast food, or quick-service restaurants, reigned, but now, only three fast food brands grace the Top 10 Most Loved Brands. That's right, seven out of 10 of our top-performing champions are fast casuals, solidifying the consumer movement for healthier-for-you options. 

So, which brands have guests falling in love bite and bite again? Meet the Top 25 Most Loved Brands and take a look at how our top three leaders earned consumer loyalty, not only through brick-and-mortar strategies, but also in the digital landscape.

How the Data Works

The Most Loved Brands are not editorially selected. This ranking is measured by core social metrics that determine consumer sentiment — and sentiment is measured beyond a positive-neutral-negative analysis. Foodable Labs examines sentiment scores in terms of consumer sentiment on food, service, and overall brand experience. Food sentiment weighs the menu offerings based on consumer conversations, service sentiment looks at the consumer's perception of the restaurant's operations quality, while overall brand experience assesses the overall quality of conversation related to the restaurant.

These sentiment scores are important to note, as maximizing on them can mean profits, longevity, and legacy when it comes to brand loyalty and brand success. With this unfiltered feedback, what do we get? The true voice of the consumer, not advertising pitches or stories gaming the system. Foodable Labs analyzes more than 167,000 restaurant and hospitality brands daily and more than 220 million global restaurant consumers engaged in social media across over 500,000 foodservice locations.

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Sentiment Scores of Top 10 Most Loved Brands

As of May 1, 2017. Sentiment Scores are measured by consumer sentiment on food, service, and overall brand experience. Foodable Labs, through the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI), analyzes more than 167K restaurant and hospitality brands and over 220MM global restaurant consumers across 500K foodservice locations.

Top 25 Most Loved Brands

1 Sweetgreen 96.52
2 Starbucks 96.12
3 Shake Shack 96.03
4 Chick-fil-A 96.02
5 Dunkin' Donuts 95.99
6 Tender Greens 95.81
7 Freshii 95.78
8 McDonald's 95.52
9 MOD Pizza 95.44
10 Mendocino Farms 95.35
11 Dig Inn 95.27
12 Honeygrow 95.18
13 Potbelly Sandwich Shop 95.1
14 Lemonade 95.06
15 True Food Kitchen 95.02
16 4Rivers Smokehouse 95.01
17 In-N-Out Burger 94.84
18 Zoës Kitchen 94.81
19 Panera Bread 94.66
20 Modern Market 94.44
21 Sonic Drive-In 94.41
22 Veggie Grill 94.33
23 Native Foods Café 94.25
24 Wow Bao 94.16
25 Cowboy Chicken 94.08

Top 3 Most Loved Brands

1. Sweetgreen — Sentiment Score: 96.52

Sentiment Scores: Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen has had pretty sweet growth these last two years. Moving from No. 39 in 2015, No. 11 in 2016, and taking the throne in our latest Top 25 ranking as of May 1, this brand has truly hit every green light for growth. What contributed to its accelerated rise?

Yes, this fast casual chain that boasts "simple, seasonal, healthy food" does attract guests into its doors with its commitment to flavor and sustainability, but Sweetgreen was also unafraid of taking a political stand by participating — if not, charging ahead as one of the leaders — in the "Day Without Immigrants" protest earlier this year. Still, that's not the only way Sweetgreen made headlines.

From partnering with James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov on a limited time menu, to resonating with millennial humor by hosting a meme contest for a month of free salads, to being one of the first brands to go completely cashless at several locations, to their newest mobile ordering app for iOS, Sweetgreen has had a green thumb for new initiatives. And with food photography as rich as their menu feeding the brand's social media (complete with puns), plus serving up inspirational news, it's no wonder why Sweetgreen is the Most Loved Brand.

2. Starbucks — Sentiment Score: 96.12

Sentiment Scores: Starbucks

Starbucks may have fallen in sentiment score earlier this month, but this brand is always brewing with consumer loyalty. This coffee king was No. 1 in 2015, No. 5 last year, and has worked its way up to a close second, less than half of a point behind.

Even in the last month alone, it seems as though Starbucks' menu is constantly changing, what with the brand releasing the viral Unicorn Frappuccino, unveiling two cold brew mocktails, and testing a new lunch menu — even rolling out gluten-free and vegan food options, but Starbucks is more than its sandwiches. 

In April, Starbucks launched its own iMessage app, allowing users to send digital gift cards to their friends by using Apple Pay directly in their conversations. To boost its latest feature, the chain had a promo gifting $5 back to those who gave at least $5 of their own. And if they wasn't enough to make guests go gaga, Starbucks is now rewarding members by allowing them to earn stars at the grocery store.

Toss in the Disneyland of coffee by Starbucks announcing a potential four-story location complete with roasting tours, spotlighting their baristas and humorous gifs on social media, and fun secret drinks like the Narwhal, Dragon, and Mermaid, and you have the winning combination for a consumer love spell. 

3. Shake Shack — Sentiment Score: 96.03

Sentiment Scores: Shake Shack

As one of the favorite leaders in the better-burger segment, it'd be tough to find anyone who has beef with Shake Shack. Who couldn't be fond of a humble success story from a humble hot dog cart turning into an international restaurant chain? (Especially one that is a brainchild of the esteemed Danny Meyer.)

From No. 25 in 2015 to No. 7 in 2016 and now at No. 3, Shake Shack grew just as quickly in consumer sentiment. Beyond the brand's dedication to sustainability and maximizing relationships with local farms, there are other reasons for its success. Along with Tara Comonte, formerly of Getty Images, joining the team as the chief financial officer and releasing its first-ever cookbook in mid-May — yes, guests can learn how to make the ShackBurger in their own kitchens — Shake Shack has always done well on social, bringing in their charity and fitness side projects to the forefront and resonating with its audience beyond satisfying consumer taste buds.

An example of this? This Most Loved Brand created new shakes to benefit No Kid Hungry, an organization that focuses on connecting children of low-income families with healthy food options. With values as good as its food, what's not to love about this brand?