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How Do Brand Names Affect Customer Decision Making Process in Selecting Fast Food Restaurants in London? Dissertation


Introduction

In highly competitive industries such as the fast food or quick service restaurant (QSR) industry, a strong brand name typically marks the difference between success and failure.

A strong, recognizable brand allows a QSR firm to best its competitors simply because customers have an expectation of the brand that translates into a form of emotional attachment or security, the so-called brand loyalty concept wherein consumers return to the QSR of their choice again and again to repeat a known emotional experience.

As long as the brand understands the consumer’s expectation and does not deviate from it, this relationship can continue over decades or even over a lifetime. Particularly in the QSR industry, wherein very little variety exists between the products that the top QSR chains serve, brand strength typically separates the wheat from the chaff.

As a result of this marketing reality, a great deal of scholarly and commercial interest in brand equity, brand awareness, brand personality, brand loyalty and the impact of these on the consumer purchasing decision process has surfaced in recent years.

Statement of the Problem

Effective QSR brand management depends on positive brand equity (Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004). Keller (1993) characterized customer based brand equity as the proportional impact of brand knowledge on a customer’s response to the brand’s advertising or marketing efforts, compared to his or her response to the same product – in this case, fast food – from an unnamed or unknown producer.

The successful marketing of a QSR brand must go beyond generic consumer responses to price; rather, it must condition the consumer response emotionally and psychologically, to the end that the consumer chooses the QSR brand based on an experience that he or she wants to repeat.

To achieve this end, the brand management team must understand the complex interplay that occurs between brand awareness, brand association and consumer choice.

As Keller (1993) explains, “brand knowledge…involves both brand awareness…recall and recognition…and brand image or associations. Based on these definitions, a brand has positive…customer-based brand equity if the consumer has a favourable…reaction to the product, price, promotion or distribution of a brand, relative to the same marketing mix element of the generic product or service” (Keller, 1993, p. 5).

Conversely, a brand will encounter negative customer based brand equity if the consumer’s reaction to the brand’s marketing is unfavourable, or if the consumer has a negative reaction to the brand category – in this case, fast food.

However, as evidenced by the global success of the Subway chain, consumers can still have an unfavourable reaction to a brand that represents the product category without condemning the product category as a whole (Reynolds, 2011). Consumers that choose Subway over McDonald’s, for example, have not rejected the entire QSR product category; they have simply found a QSR product offering that serves their needs.

The researcher’s aim for the study was to observe this complex interplay between brand equity, brand awareness, product category and consumer choice using QSR customers in London as the research subjects.

The study sought to understand the factors that affect customer decision making process in London, specifically in regards to the top six QSR firms in London: McDonald’s, Subway, Yum! Brands, Domino’s Pizza, Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger.

The research problem was to understand the extent to which London consumers care about the brand name of fast food firms, and understand the extent to which brand names have an effect on buyer behaviour.

In addition, the researcher set out to learn if the top six fast food firms attract more customers around London compared to lesser known brands or local merchants that provide the same products. The study endeavoured to determine to what extent the brand name gives QSR fast food firms a competitive advantage.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of the study was to determine the relationships between the brand names of top fast-food restaurants in London and consumer decision-making. The researcher set out to understand the relationship between brand and buyer behaviour in the London QSR market.

The qualitative research method of document analysis used in this study allowed the researcher to study a wide range of primary and secondary research in order to cement a theory around brand recognition, brand awareness, brand strategy, consumer spending, consumer decision-making, and the influence of the economic climate between 2009 and 2011 on all of these factors.

Objectives

  1. What do the fast food customers in London think of fast food restaurants, and how important is the brand name of a fast food restaurant to them?
  2. Do customers really care about brand name, or do they simply select it due to the low price?
  3. How do customers compare their regular fast food restaurant with its competitive firms?
  4. Do fast food firms gain any competitive advantage due to their brand name?
  5. Do marketing/promotion campaigns attract people from competitive brands?

Hypotheses/Research Questions

  1. What do the fast food customers in London think of fast food restaurants, and how important is a brand name to them when making food choices?
  2. Do fast food customers in London really care about the brand name of a fast food restaurant, or do they select it due to the low price?
  3. How do the fast food customers in London compare their regular restaurant with its competitive firms?
  4. Do fast food firms acquire any form of a competitive advantage due to their brand name?
  5. To what extent do marketing and promotion campaigns attract people from competitive brands?

Background of the Study

In this study, the researcher endeavoured to determine the extent to which brand strength affected buyer behaviour amongst London QSR consumers. The overall goal of the study was to discover what attitudes London QSR consumers hold in regards to the top fast food chain restaurants that they frequent. The researcher also set out to understand the role that QSR brand name plays in London consumers’ food choices.

The researcher sought to understand if QSR consumers in London genuinely care about the fast food brand names, or if they simply select a certain brand’s offering based on how little it costs when compared to its QSR competitors that offer the same type of food.

The researcher also endeavoured to determine how London QSR consumers view their regular restaurant compared with its competitive firms; again, if such a comparison does indeed take place, the researcher sought to find out if the comparison is based solely on cost, or some other emotional or psychological factor.

Finally, the researcher set out to determine if QSR firms gain any competitive edge based on the power of their brand name and associated brand loyalty, and to gauge the success or failure of marketing and promotional strategies and campaigns designed to attract brand loyal consumers to competitor QSR brands.

For the purpose of the study, the researcher chose to focus on the top six fast food restaurant chains currently operating in London: these include Subway, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Yum! Brands – which include KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut – Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Euromonitor International, 2010; IBIS World, 2011).

Definition of Terms

Quick service restaurant (QSR)

QSRs or quick service restaurants refer to fast food restaurants or chains that serve food typically in 10 minutes or under. Quick service restaurants do not offer table service and typically do not serve alcoholic beverages.

Brand

The term brand refers to a product that differentiates itself from its competitors in the same product category through the use of a distinctive visual symbol, logo, sign, name or design that consumers associate with the company that produces the product (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Brand management

Brand management refers to the strategic marketing and advertising efforts made by the company to increase market share via the success of the brand.

Brand managers employ various marketing and advertising strategies such as celebrity endorsement or product placement to advance their brands ahead of its closest competitors (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Brand equity

Brand equity encompasses both a financial definition and a consumer perception definition (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

The financial understanding of brand equity refers to the actual value of the brand in tangible, demonstrable financial terms such as sales figures and earnings portfolio boosts (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

The consumer definition of brand refers to the relationship that develops between the consumer and the brand (Kapferer, 1997). The most obvious means to demonstrate brand equity occurs in the consumer’s perception that the brand functions more successfully than its competitors (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002)

Brand loyalty

Brand loyalty refers to the behaviour of a brand’s core consumers who will champion the brand above all others. These consumers often function as free marketing tools for the company (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Tremendous brand loyalty gains have been made across all markets through digital marketing brand loyalty programs and social networking relationships that companies develop with their core customer base via “viral branding” (Holt, 2004, p. 28).

Brand awareness

Brand awareness refers to the consumer’s basic knowledge and memory of a particular brand in a particular product category (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

An example in the QSR category would be consumer awareness of burger chains in the product category of burger producers, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.

Brand personality

Consumers often imbue certain human qualities to the most successful and pervasive brands such as edginess or innovation (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

An example of brand personality in the QSR category would be Jared Fogle of Subway, an individual that personifies Subway’s goals of attracting health-conscious consumers.

Brand engagement

Brand engagement refers to the relationship that develops between a brand and its core consumers, to the extent that the consumers consistently choose the brand over its competitors and do not accept substitutes (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Heding et al., 2009; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

An example of brand engagement in the QSR sector would be a consumer who will not accept a Whopper in lieu of a Big Mac.

Customer value proposition

A customer value proposition refers to a particular strategy that a company employs in order to provide a complete customer experience to its consumers.

The customer value proposition essentially forms the bedrock of brand management, as the customer value proposition is a company’s declaration that explains why a consumer should buy one product or choose one service over those offered by competitors in the same product or service category.

As Kaplan and Norton (2004) note, the strategy deployed in the customer value proposition “is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation” (p. 203).

The customer value proposition ultimately describes the worth of the experience that a company offers its customers through the products and services that it provides (Lee, 2011). This value creation offering underpins many elements of brand management, particularly brand engagement and brand loyalty (Kaplan and Norton, 2004; Lee 2011).

Customer behaviour

Customer behaviour is best described by the concept of benefit segmentation, which explains why people buy products according to the apparent or stated relationship between a product and the fulfilment of the customer’s needs (McDonald and Dunbar, 2004).

Customers may choose products according to a variety of different features, including price, availability, or for the fulfilment of emotional needs such as status and self image (McDonald and Dunbar, 2004).

Customer decision making process

The customer decision making process functions as an adjunct to customer behaviour. The decision making process begins with the recognition of a need, be it functional, psychological or emotional (Pradhan, 2009; Tybout and Calkins, 2005).

The customer then progresses to the information stage, wherein the customer informs herself about the product and its availability (Pradhan, 2009; Tybout and Calkins, 2005).

The next stage entails evaluation, wherein the customer assesses the options available to him, based on his research. The final stage is the purchase decision stage, which can be influenced by multiple factors including the customer service experience (Pradhan, 2009; Tybout and Calkins, 2005).

Customer perception

Customer perception is best understood as an adjunct to customer satisfaction, and it is intimately tied to the customer decision making process (Tybout and Calkins, 2005).

Customer perception is commonly understood as the interplay between both the customer’s perception of a product’s performance and the extent to which the product meets the emotional and psychological expectations that the customer accrued prior to the acquisition of the product (Tybout and Calkins, 2005).

Summary

Chapter I introduces the research study and provides some introduction into the study of brands and brand management. Chapter I also includes a description of the statement of the problem for the research, the research questions, the purpose of the study, and a listing of the terms used in the study and their corresponding definitions. This chapter also contains a description of the background of the study.

Literature Review

The value of brand equity as an influencing factor in customer purchase decision making cannot be overstated.

In the fast food industry, a number of global fast food brands that are headquartered in the Western democracies build an integrated marketing strategy with a global focus; these powerhouse brands leverage the strength of their brand name around the world to benefit from large groups of consumers that they do not have to spend additional marketing dollars to win over.

The significant cost savings that strong brand equity creates, in addition to the free advertising and marketing activities that global brands receive from their brand ambassadors all over the world, make brand loyalty a viable tool for fast food firms that seek to gain a competitive advantage in the fast food product category.

In order to produce a loyal global following of brand engaged consumers, fast food firms need to glean insight into the complex emotional and psychological relationships that exist between consumers and brands.

Market researchers need to understand fundamentally the inner working of global consumer behaviour; it is necessary for fast food firms to investigate and appreciate the buying behaviour and purchase decision process of consumers as a function of brand equity.

A clear understanding of consumer attitudes toward global fast food brands and consumer perception of global fast food brands becomes paramount as a means to translate brand equity into cost savings and increases in revenue.

The researcher anticipates that the results of this research will add insight to the current body of literature in the areas of brand awareness, brand equity, brand engagement, brand attachment, and the impact of these factors on the fast food consumer’s purchasing decision process.

The following study set out to determine the extent to which brand strength affected buyer behaviour amongst London QSR consumers. The researcher’s goal was to discover what London QSR consumers truly think about fast food restaurants, and to learn how important the fast food brand name is to them when they make their food choices.

The researcher sought to understand if QSR consumers in London genuinely care about the fast food brand names, or if they simply select a certain brand’s offering on the basis of its low cost compared to its QSR competitors.

The researcher also undertook to determine the nature of the comparison that occurs between a London QSR consumer’s restaurant of choice with its competitive firms, if such a comparison does indeed take place.

The researcher looked for information to indicate whether or not the comparison is again based solely on cost, or if there something deeper, an emotional commitment that a consumer makes to a certain brand over another. For example, does a QSR consumer only defect to a competitor QSR brand when his or her brand of choice fails his or her expectations somehow?

Finally, the researcher set out to understand if QSR firms gain competitive advantage on account of the power of their brand name and associated brand loyalty, and to gauge the success of marketing and promotional strategies and campaigns designed to draw brand loyal consumers to their brand’s main competitors.

For the purpose of the study, the researcher chose to focus on the top six fast food restaurant chains currently operating in London: these include Subway, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Yum! Brands, Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger.

Yum! Brands operates a number of individual QSR brands including Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell. Subway, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza and Yum! Brands are all American companies. Eat Ltd. and Prêt a Manger are both companies founded by U.K. citizens: Eat Ltd. remains privately owned, while Prêt a Manger was recently sold to a U.K. private equity firm in partnership with Goldman Sachs (The Telegraph, 2008).

Keller (1993) defined customer based brand equity as the “differential effect of brand knowledge on consumer response to the marketing of the brand” (p. 2).

In Keller’s (1993) model, “customer based brand equity involves consumers’ reactions to an element of the marketing mix for the brand in comparison with their reactions to the same marketing mix element attributed to a fictitiously named or unnamed version of the product or service.

Customer based brand equity occurs when the consumer is familiar with the brand and holds some favourable, strong, and unique brand associations in memory” (p. 2).

In his seminal work Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer Based Brand Equity, Keller (1993) examined the idea of customer-based brand equity from the perspective of the individual consumer, and outlined several ways in which the creation and maintenance of brand equity could be administered, measured, and strategically applied to marketing campaigns and advertising materials.

The existence of powerful positive emotional associations that remain exclusive to the brand and denote authority over all other brands who produce and sell the same product or service remains crucial to the success of a brand in the extremely crowded QSR industry.

An example is the individual consumer’s favouring of the Big Mac over the Whopper; both are burgers, yet the McDonald’s consumer will choose the Big Mac due to the positive associations he or she has built up over time with the McDonald’s brand in his or her memory, while the Burger King consumer while choose the Whopper for the same reasons (Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002; Simovic, 2010).

Brand personality remains an extremely important leveraging strategy for the brand management of fast food chains in the tight QSR market (Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Brands must create a psychological distance in the minds of consumers to distinguish themselves from their competitors. As Parsa and Kwansa (2002) explain, QSR brands must “develop a brand personality to successfully differentiate their restaurants from their competitors and to maintain the trust and loyalty of their patrons” (p. 212).

Brand personality is the “set of human traits that consumers attribute to a brand” (Parsa and Kwansa, 2002, p. 212). Dominant QSR brands share the common characteristic of a recognizable brand personality. They successfully distinguish themselves from their competitors through their “robustness, desirability, distinctiveness, and consistency” (Parsa and Kwansa, 2002, p. 212).

Brand personality refers to the consistency of the brand across cultures and across time zones; the most successful QSR brands featured in this study are multinational brands that operate in many different countries yet maintain consistency of employee uniform, store décor, and product offerings in all of their stores.

In earlier times when the market was less crowded, the strategies that restaurant brand managers developed in order to build their brand’s personality focused on differentiation between various newly created products and services (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Brand management focused on convincing consumers of the “corresponding functional or utilitarian benefits those products or services” offered (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 48).

Within the last two decades however, as competition raged and the number of competing firms continued to multiply, the ability of brand managers to “differentiate brands on the basis of functional attributes alone” has ultimately proved ineffective against the constant and unmitigated competition in the QSR industry.

Therefore, as competition intensified, brand managers have changed their tactics to employ “symbolic meanings increasingly [to] form a basis for [the] brand’s positioning and differentiation” (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 48).

Increasingly, the brand managers and marketing professionals behind the major QSR brands invest their energy and budgets into the creation and development of “meaningful and distinctive brand personalities in the minds of consumers” (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 48; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

In order to distinguish a brand from its competitors effectively, the brand must develop a personality that is “distinctive, robust, desirable, and constant” (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 49).

For many years, QSR industry players grappled with “inconsistent, meaningless, or undesirable brand perceptions” (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 49). An example is the QSR industry’s struggle with price wars (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

When the QSR industry expected consumers to pay attention exclusively to the cost of the fast food products, the result was a heated and interminable price war between the major brands that “sapped customer loyalty and diminished revenues” (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999, p. 49).

The solution to the ineffectiveness of price wars for the main QSR chains such as McDonalds was to focus instead on the development of a solid and appealing brand personality that sticks in the minds of consumers, and builds and maintains brand loyalty over time (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

Brand personality can sometimes take the form of a particular spokesperson such as Subway’s Jared Fogle, or even a particular image, such as the McDonalds golden arches. In essence, the brand personality provides a comforting sameness of product offering to consumers that distinguish it from its competitors. This offering for the most part remains emotional and has little or nothing to do with cost.

More recently, Kapferer (2008) wrote of the critical rift that has developed between marketing scholars as to a unified definition of a brand, and the most effective means of measuring the brand’s strength. Kapferer (2008) explains that in regards to brand equity, “there is a major schism between two paradigms.

One is customer based and focuses exclusively on the relationship customers have with the brand…from total indifference to attachment, loyalty, and willingness to buy and rebuy based on beliefs of superiority and evoked emotions. The other aims at producing measures in dollars, euros, or yen” (p. 9).

As the consumer’s attention span continues to fragment, Kapferer (2008) asserts, the most successful brands are those that “convey certitude [and] trust” (p. 11).

The economy, in Kapferer’s (2008) words, has become “an attention economy. [There] is so much choice and opacity that consumers cannot spend their time comparing before they make a choice.

They have no time and even if they did, they cannot be certain of being able to determine the right product or service for them” (p. 11). In this economy where consumer attention becomes premium, successful brands provide a service for the time-starved consumer (Kapferer, 2008).

Successful brands function as a “time and risk reducer” (Kapferer, 2008, p. 11). In the QSR industry, the brands that encourage consumers to buy over and over again are those that save time and remove all chance and risk from the food purchasing activity.

In essence, QSR brands that provide the service of reassuring the consumer that they will receive exactly what they expect to receive appear to be those that sustain the highest yield of repeat buyers and fully engaged loyal brand champions.

Brand engagement or brand attachment refers to a phenomenon that some of the older, more well established fast food brands such as McDonalds’s enjoy with their core customer base (Holt, 2004; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993). Brand engagement is a process that begins with brand awareness and depends wholly upon the consumer’s “proximity to the brand” (Kapferer, 2008, p. 72).

Essentially, as Kapferer (2008) notes, the QSR consumer will develop a relationship with the brand of his or her choice based on proximity, which then “moves from a feeling of presence…awareness, recognition…to a feeling of relevance [or] it’s for me, to the perception of performance and a clear advantage, and ultimately to a genuine affective attachment” (p. 72).

This relationship is emotional and long term and again, often has little to do with price, although low price in some cases may serve as the entry point for brand awareness.

As Kapferer (2008) notes, brand engagement refers to a phenomenon far more complex and penetrating than simply a “repeat purchase” (p. 72). Rather, brand engagement speaks to the consumer’s long term, “personal involvement with the brand” (Kapferer, 2008, p. 73).

A brand that has succeeded in achieving engagement with its customers affects their buying behaviour in the product category (Holt, 2004; Kapferer, 2008; Keller, 1993). As Kapferer (2008) explains, in full brand engagement, “if the brand were not there, the client would prefer to wait than buy an alternative. For the consumer, there is no substitutability” (p. 73).

In the QSR landscape, an example of full brand engagement might be if a McDonald’s customer seeking a burger encounters a Burger King, he or she will not purchase a burger there, regardless of hunger level or time constraints, but will keep walking until a McDonald’s appears.

Two elements must exist in order to sustain this type of brand engagement with the consumer: the first element is attachment, quantified by a powerful awareness of the brand, wherein the customer feels “closeness with the brand” (Kapferer, 2008, p. 73).

The second element refers to customer satisfaction, namely, a firmly held belief on the part of the customer that the brand consistently performs better than its competitors (Keller, 1993; Kapferer, 2008; Kim and Kim, 2004)

QSR firms belong to the particular product category of fast foods, and in some cases, the product category has become negatively linked to the brand, and vice versa.

This study revealed two areas in which the brand and product category had merged negatively in the minds of consumers: the area of rising obesity rates, especially amongst children and young adults, and in the area of cultural aversion, since four of the six top QSR chains in London are owned by Americans.

Keller (1993) outlined that in the cases of very strong or very old brands such as McDonald’s, “some product category associations may become linked to the brand, either in terms of specific beliefs or overall attitudes” (p. 6). Consumer attitudes in regards to a particular product category typically function as a vital indicator of customer response and consumer reaction (Keller, 1993).

In the QSR category, most fast food chains share the negative product category association in the area of child obesity rates. The exception would be Subway, which has successfully branded itself as a healthful alternative to fast food, while still preserving its quick service restaurant categorization.

The current research study reviewed the work of a number of researchers who have studied brand awareness, brand equity, brand engagement and consumer behaviour and the consumer purchasing decision process as it applies in the QSR industry.

Kim and Kim (2004) conducted a study that revealed the essential dimensions that underpin brand equity and investigated the impact they had on the performance of several chain outfits in the QSR category.

Kim and Kim (2004) analyzed the data gathered from a survey of 394 shoppers in Korea; the researchers asked the shoppers to complete a questionnaire that gauged the consumers’ brand equity. Kim and Kim (2004) discovered in this study that “brand awareness, perceived quality, brand loyalty, and brand image are important dimensions of customer-based brand equity.

Brand awareness appeared to be the dimension that gave the greatest boost to QSR firms’ performance, even though brand awareness had relatively less importance in the brand-equity construct itself” (p. 116). Kim and Kim (2004) found that brand loyalty, which represented a substantial aspect of the “construct of brand equity in QSR chains, did not exhibit a significant relationship with firms’ performance” (p. 116).

Kim and Kim (2004) discovered that brand equity has a constructive impact on a firm’s performance; according to their research, more than half of the variations in performance can be accredited to brand equity for QSR chain restaurants.

To determine the connection between brand equity and consumers sales in QSR chains, Kim and Kim (2004) used a simple bivariate regression model and regressed brand equity on sales; these figures showed that brand equity accounts for over half of the sales variation.

“When brand equity components such as brand loyalty, brand awareness, perceived quality and brand image were regressed on sales in a multiple regression, these components explained over 70 percent of the variations in sales” (Kim and Kim, 2004, p. 117). According to this study therefore, “strong brand equity is significantly correlated with revenues for quick-service restaurants” (Kim and Kim, 2004, p. 116).

Ramasamy and Yeung (2008) utilized a panel data structure for their study that examined the top 50 firms in the United States between 2000 and 2005 to determine the “nexus between brand value and various measures of firm performance” (p. 322). The researchers were successful in validating a connection between the measure of brand equity or brand value and “multiple profitability ratios and stock market performance measures.

The contemporaneous relationships between brand values and profitability are significant even after controlling for unobserved effects through panel data estimation techniques” (Ramasamy and Yeung, 2008, p. 322).

The study results indicated that firms with entrenched, robust brands remain “more profitable, and the significance of brands’ effects on internal profitability is very consistent regardless of the selection of measures and thus could not have occurred by chance” (Ramasamy and Yeung, 2008, p. 322).

This study also indicated that brands with strong brand equity tend to enjoy consistently higher performance in the stock market (Ramasamy and Yeung, 2008).

Schmitt and Zarantonello (2010) demonstrated that brand experience varies amongst different groups of consumers.

The researchers surveyed 1134 respondents in 10 Italian cities between October of 2007 and 2008 using a questionnaire that highlighted a particular brand and asked the consumers surveyed to rate that brand according to their experience of it. The researchers then used cluster and regression analysis to investigate the relationships between brand experience and purchase intention among the respondents.

The researchers discovered that among consumers, different “experiential appeals” exist, depending on the consumer’s brand preference and level of brand engagement. As Schmitt and Zarantonello, (2010) explain, “on one extreme, there are holistic consumers, who seem to be interested in all aspects of experience; on the other extreme, there are utilitarian consumers, who do not attach much importance to brand experience” (p. 532).

In the middle, there exist what the researchers call “hybrid consumers” (Schmitt and Zarantonello, 2010, p. 532). As Schmitt and Zarantonello, (2010) note, these consumers remain engaged with specific brands in specific ways, namely, “hedonistic consumers…attach importance to sensorial gratification and emotions, [while] action-oriented consumers…focus on actions and behaviours” (p. 532).

Also, customers whom the researchers label as “inner-directed consumers” are more interested in creating an internal experience of the brand such as “sensations, emotions, and thoughts” (Schmitt and Zarantonello, 2010, p. 532). Brand equity and brand engagement, according to Schmitt and Zarantonello (2010), will occur in varying degrees according to the orientation of the consumer.

De Pelsmacker and Dens (2010) conducted a study to investigate the relationship between branding strategies for the launch of a new brand and the launch of a “line extension” of products from a well-established brand (p. 50).

The researchers studied “advertising execution strategies…informational, positive emotional and negative emotional…and product category involvement…low and high…on consumers’ attitudes towards the product, purchase intention and the parent brand” (De Pelsmacker and Dens, 2010, p. 58).

Results indicated that the extension of a new product from an existing brand fares much better than a new brand in terms of purchase intention and positive brand attitudes.

De Pelsmacker and Dens (2010) also found that “advertising strategy has little impact on consumer responses to line extensions of familiar brands …For well-known, high-quality brands, the negative evaluations of negative emotional appeals are not reflected in product and brand evaluations.

[Thus], it is apparent that brand extensions are more positively evaluated than new brands. As such, launching new products as extensions of established brands seems a viable strategy over new brands” (De Pelsmacker and Dens, 2010, p. 59).

Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton (2009) conducted research into the customer purchasing decision process as it pertains to the fast food product category. In this study, the researchers set out to determine the relationship between the availability of fast food and the consumption of fast food in key market areas (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009).

The principal goal of this study was to demonstrate a causal link between the increased consumer purchasing of fast food and the proliferation of fast food chains and restaurants in target market areas (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009).

The study took place in Melbourne, Australia and included a sample of 2564 households; the research reflected a 64 percent response rate to a food purchasing survey that the researchers mailed to a random sample (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009).

The study focused exclusively on lower income households in Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs, specifically those with an income of 400 dollars or less per week before taxes (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009).

The fast food chains featured in this study include McDonald’s, Red Rooster, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hungry Jacks, and Pizza Hut; Red Rooster and Hungry Jacks are Australian fast food restaurant chains.

The researchers further parsed the sample into a number of categories based on age, education, country of origin, profession, gender, and the composition of the households represented in the study, including “single male adult without children, single female adult without children, a single adult with a child or children, two or more adults without children, or two or more adults with a child or children” (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009, p. 31).

The results of this research uncovered “an independent association between the variety of fast food restaurants and fast food purchasing; an increase of one different fast food chain within the 3 kilometre network areas increased the odds of monthly fast food purchasing by 13 percent” (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009, p. 34).

However, the researchers cautioned that this remained the sole statistically significant finding of the study in models that has been adjusted (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009). As Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton (2009) explain:

No significant relationships were found between density and proximity after the inclusion of individual socio-economic predictors suggesting these were important confounders.

[However] it is important to note that although we only had one significant finding in models adjusted for all confounders the relationships were all in the same direction; they were all suggestive of a possible relationship between greater access and increased purchasing (p. 34).

While this study demonstrated a link between availability of fast food and increased customer purchasing of fast food, the study largely sought to discover the relationship between socio-economic factors and fast food consumption (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009).

As such, the study authors caution that “a potential for bias…potentially exists within research related to dietary behaviours and neighbourhood health effects” (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009, p. 35).

Therefore, the study authors “recommend that future research carefully disentangle the relationships using DAGs, particularly in relation to assessing the potential mediating role of fast food store access for socio-economic associations and intake” (Bentley, Kavanagh and Thornton, 2009, p. 35).

New Products and Product Innovation

Gammoh, Skiver and Voss (2011) conducted a study to investigate the impact of brand equity on consumer choices, specifically in the area of new products. The research sought to understand how brand equity affects a customer’s evaluation of “continuous [versus] discontinuous innovation of new products” (p. 65).

The researchers also endeavoured to understand and the regulating impact of brand equity on a consumer’s knowledge of a particular product category.

In the QSR industry, product innovation remains tends not to represent as much of a driver for revenue and sustained business compared to industries such as the technology industry; however, as the researchers note, product innovation is “critical to companies’ success,” particularly in the area of product originality and perceived consumer value (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011, p. 65).

This study found that previous research had ostensibly overlooked the vital role that brand equity plays in both the consumer response to a new product as well as consumer evaluation of a new product or innovation (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011).

As Gammoh, Skiver and Voss (2011) explain, “an implicit assumption in previous research is that the brand itself does not affect on the consumer’s response to the innovation type of the new product introduction.

However…comparisons between continuous and discontinuous innovation fail to account for specific effects due to different levels of brand equity of the new product.

Brands vary in their levels of brand equity, and thus may realize differential responses to continuous or discontinuous new products” (p. 65). In other words, a powerful brand may be assured of a more favourable consumer response to whatever new products it creates and markets simply by virtue of its robust brand equity.

In this study, the researchers sought to demonstrate that the fundamental value of the brand in brand equity terms will have a direct impact on a consumer’s assessment of a given product innovation when it is introduced to the market. Using a 2×2 between-subjects research design, the researchers employed a consumer scenario as the stimulus for the study using a sample of 29 participants (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011).

The researchers included a product description which established the name of the firm and the brand name, as well as a brief overview of the level of innovation that the new product reflected.

The researchers found a direct correlation between brand recognition and the sample’s response to the product innovations; the most well known brand consistently received the highest ratings in brand recall, brand familiarity and consumer attitudes (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011).

The results of this study underscored the “positive influence of well-known and high-equity brands on consumer evaluations of new product introductions, regardless of the innovation type” (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011, p. 75).

Gammoh, Skiver and Voss (2011) concluded that “high brand equity provides consumers with more information about the broad array of the benefits of the brand and thus reduces their perceived uncertainty about the potential benefits and risks associated” with a new product or innovation (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011, p. 76).

The strength of the brand itself and the equity that it has developed with consumers provides the warm introduction for whatever new products or innovations the company produces.

This study provides key insight into brand management in the realm of product innovation, as high-equity brands enjoy less risk, “since consumers are just as likely to positively evaluate those products,” based on their pre-existing positive engagement with the brand (Gammoh, Skiver and Voss, 2011, p. 76).

Customer Value Proposition

Lee (2011) conducted a study of Chick-fil-A, a QSR located in the United States, in order to determine the principal factors involved in QSR operational superiority from a brand standpoint. This study focused exclusively on the customer value proposition as a means to understand the relationship between consumers and a fast food particular brand to which they provide consistent loyalty.

Lee’s (2011) hypothesis for the study involved the service profit chain model, and the researcher set out to investigate the customer value proposition with the following assumptions in place: “customer loyalty drives profitability and growth, customer satisfaction drives customer loyalty, service value drives customer satisfaction, employee retention and productivity drives service value, employee satisfaction drives retention and productivity, and internal quality drives employee satisfaction” (Lee, 2011, p. 118).

According to Lee (2011), the “service-profit chain model, a firm’s operating strategy, and [a firm’s] service delivery system could offer better service value to customers and service value drives better customer loyalty and…financial performance” (p. 117).

In this study Lee (2011) identified several of the principal elements necessary for success in the QSR industry, specifically in regards to building and maintaining brand equity through customer loyalty. The profitability of a QSR firm and the continuous growth of its income returns are motivated predominantly by customer loyalty; customer loyalty, in turn, remain a direct consequence of consumer satisfaction (Lee, 2011).

The satisfaction of the QSR consumer is primarily influenced by the value of the product or service according to the consumer’s perception (Lee, 2011). In the QSR industry, Lee (2011) notes, customer satisfaction remains crucial as a means to drive revenue and maintain market share.

The main drivers of success in customer satisfaction oriented industries such as the QSR industry include quality, speed and customer service (Lee, 2011).

Lee (2011) further delineates herein: “quality refers to the overall quality of the food at your chain, the quality at a particular restaurant, the overall quality of the brand, and the quality of the brand at a particular restaurant” (p. 117).

Of these three factors, Lee (2011) argues that speed is the most relevant in terms of building and maintaining brand equity and driving sales. “In the Quick-Service Industry, speed is imperative; for the average Quick-Service Restaurant, nearly 55%-75% of their sales are accounted for through drive-thru” (Lee, 2011, p. 118).

This study concluded that in the quick service restaurant industry, a QSR builds its customer satisfaction – and in turn its brand equity – largely via the experience that the firm’s employees have with the company.

Lee (2011) argued that a high quality of employee experience correlates directly with the consumer’s experience of the brand; in essence, the employee becomes engaged with the brand and functions as its most reliable and effective ambassador.

A successful relationship between the employee and the brand has translated into significant success for such brands as Starbucks (Lee, 2011). Similar research has shown the same results with non-fast food companies such as Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car (Lee, 2011).

As Lee (2011), the customer value proposition and the employee value proposition are essentially mutually enhancing, as the “customer value proposition is to deliver an excellent experience to customers in quality, speed, and customer/employee service… high quality, fast delivery, healthy food, and excellent customer service help to sustain a high level of customer satisfaction” (p. 119).

Promotions and Strategies

Researchers Leone and Raggio (2009) and Seddon et al. (2010) presented studies to indicate that the QSR category benefitted slightly from the recession.

Consumer traffic increased slightly at some QSR chains, and “steady traffic at fast food outlets came at the expense of full-service, mid-tier casual dining establishments. Consumers were attracted to the fast food restaurants because of their lower prices. Brand value for the category grew by just 1 percent” (Seddon et al., 2010, p. 74).

As Leone and Raggio (2009) explain, “it is important to highlight how short-term actions can impact long-term brand value.

If we consider a brand to represent a promise of benefits and brand equity to be the perception that a brand meets an important promise of benefits, then it is clear that what is happening during recessionary times is that consumers are more likely to consider whether or not value is part of the brand’s promise” (Leone and Raggio, 2009, p. 86).

The migration from casual dining establishments to QSR chains reflected consumer response to reduced discretionary income, which will change now that the recession is subsiding, thus these new customers may only be temporary.

Subway’s $5 Footlong

Subway’s $5 Footlong product proved to be a huge hit in 2010. Seddon et al., (2008) found that during the lean times of the recession, the $5 Footlong represented a “compelling value proposition [that] boosted Subway’s sales” (p. 74).

The successful $5 Footlong promotion, “along with the brand’s commitment to freshness, enabled Subway to surpass Wendy’s and Burger King in market share last year” (Seddon et al., 2009; Seddon et al., 2010).

Subway’s success during the recession positioned it to compete with McDonald’s. As Seddon et al., (2010) explain, “with 32,000 restaurants in 92 countries, Subway is about to overtake McDonald’s in number of locations” (p. 74). Subway’s brand value increased 9 percent since 2008. (O’Leary, 2010; Seddon et al., 2008; Seddon et al., 2009; Seddon et al., 2010)

McDonald’s McCafe

Multibranding offers firms the opportunity to leverage existing sales units that tend to produce lower sales volumes than the core brand (Enz, 2005; Oches, 2011). Researchers Frazer et al. (2007) studied the McCafe co-branding strategy that McDonald employed in Australia to determine the success of this tactic “in franchising as a strategy to stimulate and rejuvenate growth in a mature franchising sector” (p. 442).

The researchers posited that development movements such as “multiple unit franchising mobile franchising and co-branding occur because of the sector’s need to find new means of expansion beyond the standard model of franchising” (Frazer et al., 2007, p. 442).

McDonald’s in Australia had experienced decreasing market share in its Australian operations in the early part of the 21st century due to consumer concerns with health, obesity, and the impact of the fat and salt content of the standard McDonald’s menu on heart disease.

The researchers examined the McDonald’s and McCafe co-branding strategy that the company undertook at that time to invigorate its brand in Australia and attract a new target market of consumers.

The McCafe co-brand strategy which evolved in Australia, was investigated in order to find out what “incentives and inhibitions associated with this successful co-branding initiative” existed (Frazer et al., 2007, p. 442).

McDonald’s Australia introduced the McCafe co-branding strategy in 1999; the company adopted the sub-brand as a mainstream program for the McDonald’s brand in 2001, when the “New Tastes Menu was introduced throughout Australia” (Frazer et al., 2007, p. 442).

The original purpose of the McCafe co-brand initiative was to infuse life into the flagging the McDonald’s brand equity at that time. The researchers found that the co-branding strategy worked in the case of McDonald’s because the brand was mature and robust enough to sustain and grow a sub-brand.

In the case of Australia, target audiences began to revisit McDonald’s on account of the McCafe strategy; effectively rejuvenating the brand in a market where it has fatigued slightly due to concerns over obesity and heart disease (Frazer, L. et al., 2007).

The study demonstrated that McDonald’s was able to move from a stand-alone brand to the position of “master brand, [effectively] parenting its own brand equity and that of McCafe” (p. 443).

DiPietro (2005) conducted a study of Yum! Brands’ campaign to increase sales through multibranding. The company placed two or more of its brands KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in the same commercial building in a co-branding strategy to boost sales.

DiPietro (2005) pointed to “same-unit sales for 2003 have not grown over 2002, showing that cobranding may be holding sales steady during fluctuating times for quick-service restaurants, but it is not growing the sales of the restaurant units over time” (p. 96).

Cobranding and multibranding often appear as a feasible sales strategy for firms with multiple QSR assets; however, DiPietro (2005) found that the research “indicates that restaurant cobranding raises potential problems in three areas. First, cobranding may cannibalize both sales and image of one brand with the addition of another brand in the same restaurant space.

Second, cobranding may cause operational confusion, because managers and employees will have to learn two different operating systems. Third, cobranding may increase costs because of the need to train employees in two systems. As an additional point, cobranding may also confuse consumers with regard to what a restaurant is offering” (p. 96).

Product positioning in the QSR industry represents an additional competitive strategy that many of the top fast food chains in London, and in most urban areas for that matter, tend to uniformly employ.

Location remains a key element of branding strategies of the main QSR firms surveyed in this paper, particularly the powerhouse burger brands McDonald’s and Burger King, which tend to compete directly in close proximity with each other for QSR customers.

In major urban areas such as London for example, McDonald’s and Burger King will typically be found on the same strip or block; the same is true of food courts in malls and other many other major QSR locations such as bus terminals, airports and train stations.

Thomadsen (2007) conducted a study in order to examine the phenomenon of consumer choice and product positioning and location between competitors in the fast food industry.

For the purposes of this study, Thomadsen (2007) deemed the competition to be asymmetric given that McDonald’s holds a much higher market share than Burger King. The study focused on the two burger giants McDonald’s and Burger King and investigated “optimal product positioning strategies…in the context of retail outlet locations in the fast food industry” (p. 792).

Thomadsen’s (2007) study examined the relationship between the two firms’ revenues and product differentiation, within the context of the product homogeneity prevalent in the QSR industry. As Thomadsen’s (2007) notes, both McDonald’s and Burger King provide “products that are very homogeneous within each chain.

This product homogeneity – which is observed not just in the food, but also in the menu boards, uniforms, and architectural style – is a large component of the value that comes from being a member of a chain, and both McDonald’s and Burger King’s success can be largely attributed to the vigilance with which their founders enforced this homogeneity” (p. 793).

This statement also explains the strength of both firm’s brand equity, namely, the lack of deviation from the core consumer experience that each firm offers.

The study showed that both McDonald’s and Burger King were more successful when they avoided direct competition in close physical proximity, provided that the firms operated in a large urban market such as London.

The prices for the products offered by both McDonald’s and Burger King were the lowest when the two chains operated within close proximity, and increased as the distance between the stores increased, “approximately leveling off once the outlets are about 2-2.5 miles apart” (Thomadsen, 2007, p. 797).

However, as Thomadsen (2007) notes, “in small market areas, McDonald’s would prefer to be located together with Burger King rather than have the two outlets be only a slight distance apart. In contrast, Burger King’s profits always increase with greater differentiation” (Thomadson, 2007, p. 792).

Thomadsen’s (2007) study also discovered that proximity tended to hurt the smaller QSR firm. As Thomadsen (2007) explains, “when Burger King and McDonald’s are located together, Burger King, as the weaker firm, is unable to attract many consumers from McDonald’s by lowering its prices” (p. 798).

Despite this, nine times out of ten, Burger King and McDonald’s stores will be found close together in most large urban centres. Thomadsen (2007) hypothesizes that “offsetting these incentives is the desirability of locating centrally to appeal to the most customers” (p. 792).

The study also revealed that when a Burger King store is “positioned differently enough, it finds that it is attractive to enough consumers that it begins to find that it can use prices to attract customers” (Thomadsen, 2007, p. 798). Thomadsen (2007) posits that the McDonald’s corporation remains more aggressive in its quest to locate optimal locations compared to its competitor Burger King.

On the other hand, as Thomadsen (2007) notes, “Burger King…always works to avoid direct competition with McDonald’s unless there is a large demand source, such as a mall, which would provide Burger King with enough customers to overcome its inability to be a strong competitor against McDonald’s” (p. 803).

From a revenue standpoint, Thomadsen’s (2007) study revealed that the variable profits that the McDonald’s corporation earns tend to decrease when the nearest Burger King competitor is located in a separate yet proximal location of half a mile or more (Thomadsen, 2007).

As Thomadsen (2007) explains, this price drop occurs “because most consumers would patronize a McDonald’s outlet over a Burger King outlet if the outlets were located in the same place.

However, when the outlets are located apart, some consumers who prefer McDonald’s will instead eat at a Burger King because they are geographically located closer to the Burger King outlet” (p. 798). Similarly, Thomadsen’s (2007) study showed that physical location affects consumer decision making.

As Thomadsen (2007) explains, “some consumers who prefer Burger King’s food will be closer to McDonald’s and eat there instead, but because more consumers prefer McDonald’s food, the net flow of customers is from McDonald’s to Burger King” (p. 798).

Both firms will generally gather around a “large, concentrated source of demand in the market” (Thomadsen, 2007, p. 801). This phenomenon can be observed in many other QSR firms also.

Thomadsen (2007) hypothesizes in this study that all QSR firms, in this case McDonald’s and Burger King, will concentrate in the area of highest demand such as mall food courts. As Thomadsen (2007) explains, “if there were a large mall located in the center of the market, then each firm would choose to locate at the mall even though the other firm would locate there, too.

Similarly, if the center of the market were a “downtown” area with a greater concentration of demand, both firms would choose to locate in the downtown area…This can explain why McDonald’s and Burger King outlets are often located together in high-demand areas” (p. 801).

The same is also true of many other QSR competitors such as YUM! Brands and Subway. As a rule, these QSR firms knowingly face stiff competition – and as this study demonstrates, lose revenue as a result – in order to exist in the locations with the highest fast food consumer traffic (Thomadsen, 2007).

Apaydin (2011) conducted research into the consumer purchasing behaviour across multiple product categories, including the fast food product category, in relation to brand loyalty, brand awareness and brand image.

Apaydin (2011) sought to understand the relationship between consumer perceptions of global brands in a number of different categories and their decision making and buying choices using a sample of 182 Turkish college students.

The purpose of the research was to ascertain if these global brands possessed some supplementary emotional associations with the consumer sample that the same product offerings from local brands did not have.

As Apaydin (2011) notes, if global brands do have additional associations in the minds of consumers, “this has significant contributions to brand image and knowledge, and it enhances brand value which is likely to affect consumers’ brand selection and loyalty behavior” (p. 26).

The researcher’s aim in this research was to determine the emotional relationship between global brand choice and brand loyalty as a function of the consumer’s self image.

Apaydin (2011) posited that if a global brand were associated with self concept or self worth, then it would be chosen above cheaper local brands in the same product category. As Apaydin (2011) explains, “brand loyalty was measured with the statement…I make my purchase according to my favorite global brand, regardless of price” (p. 28).

The results of this study were surprising and differed greatly previous studies. As Apaydin (2011) notes, the research demonstrated the global economic recession exacted a significant influence on consumer purchasing decisions in the fast food product category.

The consumers sampled in this study did not adhere to brand loyalty to the same extent that they have in previous studies. Apaydin (2011) “observed that global brand loyalty is far less than expected, which is not in line with the literature.

The possible reason might be related with global economic recession, which had a big impact on buying behaviors of consumers and strategies of companies. The period of the survey coincided with the economic recession which almost all countries have been experiencing for the last two years.

As this research was carried out in these years, the results are likely to be affected from it” (p. 32). The price sensitivity demonstrated by consumers during uncertain economic times became the most significant determinant of consumer purchasing behaviour in the fast food product category.

Apaydin (2011) presented an additional limiting factor of the study as the “lack of importance of these criteria as a basis for hamburger brand selection” (p. 32). The results suggest that fast food consumers do not necessarily equate the selection of fast food brands with self image.

As Apaydin (2011) explains, “respondents most strongly disagreed with parents and friends being influences on brand purchase, being loyal to brands, [brand] reputation…and brand choice being a reflection of self image” (p. 32).

Rather, the results indicated the consumers sampled chose a particular fast food brand based on the criteria of “value and variety seeking and convenience, which are explained by multi-brand, quality, novelty, price, time, and promotion. Different from the others, time is an important variable for the selection of this product type, which supports the reason why people prefer fast food” (Apaydin, 2011, p. 32).

Contrary to the results of previous studies in a similar vein, as Apaydin (2011) explains, “close environment is not effective for this group in the selection of the global brand” of fast food.

The main factors effecting consumer choice remained speed and cost, and the researcher concluded that the recession had a much stronger impact on consumer purchasing choices, one that superseded brand loyalty in the fast food product category (Apaydin, 2011).

Healthy Eating Lobby

In the U.K., concern over the ingredients – particularly fat and salt content – and the high caloric load of many QSR chains’ offerings continues to increase as the obesity rates in the U.K. begin to mirror those of the United States (Bassett et al., 2007; Gereffi, Lee and Christian, 2009; Glayzer and Mitchell, 2008).

Obesity rates for British males have doubled since 1993, according to Glayzer and Mitchell (2008), and the researchers predict that based on current rates, “by 2050, 60% of men and 50% of women, and 25% of children will be obese” (p. 4).

Especially among children and teenagers, the U.K. population experienced a ballooning of waistlines in recent years and as a result, many healthy eating lobbyists have targeted the fast food industry (Consumers International, 2009; Keynote, 2010).

The issue for the healthy eating lobbyists remains convincing fast food restaurant chains to post caloric information at the point of purchase as a means of influencing the fast food consumer’s purchasing decision. As Glayzer and Mitchell (2008) note:

Restaurants, fast food outlets and other takeaway establishments are currently excluded from any requirement to provide nutrition information at the point of sale. Voluntary schemes are in place in some areas, but formats vary, as do levels and type of outside assessment.

The Food Commission met with the Food Standards Agency in July 2008. The agency is currently conducting consumer research to determine what type of information would be most helpful, and is in discussion with fast food companies.

This has led to chain restaurants, including Burger King, McDonalds, KFC and Subway, committing to taking steps to offer more healthy options and to provide nutritional information to consumers, however none of these chains will offer prominent information on menu boards (p. 13).

The current public health lobby of the United Kingdom therefore does not intervene in the fast food industry to the same extent as its counterpart in the United States. However, as obesity rates continue to rise in the United Kingdom, the healthy eating lobby will likely exert more pressure on the fast food industry, and this pressure may have an impact on consumer purchasing decisions and ultimately on brand loyalty and brand equity.

In recent years, many studies have been conducted in order to investigate the impact of the healthy eating lobby on brand equity, brand loyalty and consumer purchasing decisions in the QSR industry. A number of studies have attempted to identify a causal link between consumer awareness of healthy eating habits and how this awareness may or may not affect their purchasing decisions when it comes to fast food.

These studies are of particular importance to the study at hand, given that this researcher seeks to ascertain the relationship between brand name fast food restaurants and consumer purchasing decisions.

Several studies suggest that the consumer purchasing decision has been affected by the healthy eating lobby, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, while others suggest that the healthy eating lobby has effectively vilified certain fast food brands, namely McDonald’s.

Whether or not the healthy eating lobby succeeded in minimizing or tarnishing the brand equity of QSR chains such as McDonald’s and reducing the brand loyalty of fast food consumers remains a focus of this research, as does the impact of the healthy eating lobby on fast food restaurant chains’ revenue.

In addition, this study seeks to determine if consumer purchasing decisions change when consumers are made aware of the caloric load of the fast food products they consume.

Several studies suggest that when fast food restaurants inform their consumers about the caloric content of the meals they order, consumers may change the order to a smaller meal or a meal that contains less calories, but the consumers remain with their fast food brand of choice rather than purchase lower calorie fast food from a competitor.

Glayzer and Mitchell (2008) assert that the trend of eating outside the home – more often than not at fast food chains – has contributed to the higher rates of obesity and heart disease. As Glazer and Mitchell (2008) assert, “eating out has become a major part of everyday life in the UK. Almost 30 percent of household expenditure on food is now allocated to eating outside the home [and] 30 percent of people surveyed eat out at least once a week.

This figure has doubled since 2003, when the average was 13 percent. Within the 18-24 age group the average number of people who eat out at least once a week is even higher, at 61 percent (p. 8).

Fast food firms such as McDonald’s tend to take the brunt of the healthy food lobby’s criticism, a fact that may contribute to the increased share of such QSR competitors of Subway, Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger in London. Glayzer and Mitchell (2008) posit that most QSR firms serve fare that is “high in calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt, served in large portions, and priced in a way that makes large serving sizes more appealing” (p. 8).

Bassett et al. (2007) conducted research into the impact of posted caloric information on the purchasing behaviour of fast food consumers at the point of purchase using a comprehensive cross sectional survey.

The researchers endeavoured to distinguish the nature of the fast food consumers’ food purchases, the nature of their observation and evaluation of the posted caloric information, as well as how the fast food patrons used the caloric information (Bassett et al., 2007).

The researchers compiled a random sample of 7318 respondents (Bassett et al., 2007). The study participants were gleaned from 300 fast food restaurant chains from roughly 1625 locations throughout the five boroughs of the city of New York that the researchers deemed eligible (Bassett et al., 2007).

The sample included 11 fast food restaurants: Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Subway, Burger King, Domino’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Popeye’s (Bassett et al., 2007).

The stated goal of this study was to determine if fast food consumers altered their food choices or their fast food brand choices or both once they learned the caloric value of the meal that they had chosen (Bassett et al., 2007).

As Bassett et al. (2007) explain, the results of the survey demonstrated a slight reduction in caloric intake in response to the posted information; however, those surveyed did not take their business to a fast food competitor that offered a less calorically rich meal:

Those who reported seeing and using calorie information purchased 99 fewer calories than those who reported seeing the information and that it had no effect…

There was no significant difference in mean calories purchased by patrons reporting seeing but not using calorie information and patrons who reported not seeing calorie information…

[However], objective measurement of calorie content through examination of receipts confirmed that patrons who reported seeing and using calorie information purchased fewer calories than did those reporting that they did not see or use calorie information (p. 1458).

Thus, this study determined that point of purchase displaying of the caloric load of fast food meals prompts the consumer to purchase a lower calorie meal; however, the respondents sampled in this study did not deviate from their fast food brand of choice.

Rather, they chose a lower calorie alternative from the menu. The results of this study therefore support the idea that the brand equity fast food firms build with their customer sustains itself despite concerns for health and obesity.

Dixon, Elbel and Vadiveloo (2011) conducted similar research into the efficacy of product labelling in the fast food industry. The backdrop for this study was similar to that of the United Kingdom.

Concern in the United States with rising obesity rates prompted public health legislators in the states of New York and New Jersey to mandate the labelling of caloric intake of fast food meals in the same major QSR chains featured in this study, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Using a sample of 1,170 adults aged 18 years or older, Dixon, Elbel and Vadiveloo (2011) surveyed consumer purchasing behaviour in the fast food chains which had adopted the legislation. The researchers aimed to determine if the product labelling effectively reduced overall caloric intake in the sample group.

The researchers examined the sample “to determine whether the degree to which patrons noticed and reported using the calorie information was related to food purchasing patterns,” namely, healthier food choices or reduced caloric intake (p. 52).

The results of this study supported the researchers’ hypothesis that calorie labelling in major fast food chains would have an impact on purchasing decisions; however, the results did not support the idea that fast food consumer would choose a competitor of their fast food brand of choice such as Subway, regardless of the caloric reduction this chain offers compared to McDonald’s, Burger King, or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Rather, the results indicated that the adults sampled would choose food items of lesser caloric value at their fast food brand of choice. As Dixon, Elbel and Vadiveloo (2011) note:

[the respondents] who reported noticing and using calorie labels to inform their food choices consumed more salads and ate out at fast food restaurants less often than adults who did not notice the labels.

Adults who noticed calorie labels but reported not using the information also ate at fast food restaurants less often and were less likely to order caloric beverages than adults who did not see the labels. This suggests that calorie labels may provide some benefit to all consumers who observe them, regardless of whether they report using them (p. 32).

The researchers caution that although the results of this study offer hope for public health legislators in the area of obesity and its concomitant health problems such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, “it is not possible to definitively attribute these favourable differences to calorie labels, because adults who notice labels may differ from adults who do not notice labels.

Adults who notice labels, for example, may have a stronger interest in health, which influences their food purchasing decisions” (p. 32). While the decision to choose healthier options in the fast food product category, according to the results of this study, may rest with the individual fast food consumer, brand loyalty appears to prevail in the face of higher calories.

Carbohydrates not Fast Food

Several studies have come to light that counter the theory that fast food is the main culprit behind the expanding girth of adults and children in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Rather, a number of researchers from several different disciplines offer the explanation that consumer purchasing decisions in the area of carbohydrate intake represent the main driver in the obesity epidemic, specifically, the prevalence of high carbohydrate snack foods.

Patterson, Richards and Tegene (2007) conducted research into the hypothesis that obesity stems from a rational addiction to carbohydrate rich snack foods rather than fast foods per se.

The main research question that guided this study asked that if fast food “consumers are rational, utility-maximizing agents as economists assume, how can their demand for food be so clearly suboptimal from a health perspective?

This study…tests whether consumers’ rational addiction to specific macronutrients constitutes a viable explanation for the rising incidence of obesity” (Patterson, Richards and Tegene, 2007, p. 309).

Rather than blame the fast food industry for the skyrocketing obesity rates, this study points to the role of carbohydrates and between meal snacking as the main driver in weight gain. As Patterson, Richards and Tegene (2007) note:

Despite the fact that much media attention and public debate has centred on “high-fat” fast food as a likely culprit in the obesity epidemic, our finding suggests a focus rather on increased consumption of high-carbohydrate foods.

Drawing such a conclusion would be questionable if there were only marginal differences in the nutrient content of the foods included in the model. However, our analysis considers snack foods, a category that includes intensive sources of dietary fat… [such as] potato chips… as well as others that are very high in carbohydrate…[such as] pretzels [and] cookies (p. 317).

The results of this study provided a potential alternative explanation for the obesity epidemic, one that does not directly implicate the fast food industry.

This study suggests that the consumer purchasing decision process in the area of snack foods is unduly and negatively influenced by an addition to the micronutrients in carbohydrates, and that snack foods require legislation and regulation rather than fast foods. Whether or not this and other studies will convince the healthy eating lobby remains to be seen.

Legal scholar Todd G. Buchholz (2003) conducted a study to examine the obesity epidemic from a legal perspective. This study remains of particular interest to the healthy eating lobby, as several lawsuits have been filed against large fast food brands such as McDonald’s in an attempt to seek compensation for obesity health complications (Buchholz, 2003).

This study revealed some interesting facts in regards to the actual caloric load of the average fast food meal. As Buchholz (2003) notes, “fast food has expanded menus for changes in taste and health concerns. Fast food meals today derive fewer calories from fat than they did in the 1970s. Fast food [also] has a smaller percentage of calories from fat than a typical home cooked meal in 1977” (p. 1).

Fast food menus typically contain a high amount of protein; for low income individuals especially, Buchholz (2003), fast food restaurants offer an economically viable means to get protein into their diets.

In addition, Buchholz (2003) notes, should the impact of the healthy eating lobby lead to an increase in obesity lawsuits against fast food chains, several negative effects may results, including “lower wages for [fast food] employees, lower stock prices for [fast food] shareholders, [and] higher prices for [fast food] consumers” (p. 2).

Several fast food chains that have come under fire from the healthy eating lobby have taken steps to offer healthier fare at their restaurants through strategic alliances with purveyors of healthy foods and beverages.

An example is the co-branding strategy that occurred in 2007 in the United Kingdom, when McDonald’s U.K. began selling children’s smoothies manufactured by a U.K. company named Innocent in its Happy Meals (Ritson, 2007).

Innocent built its reputation as an eco-friendly, anti-corporate entity devoted to selling healthy drinks; thus, critics of the co-branding initiative argued that Innocent would lose business as a result of the affiliation with McDonald’s, which many U.K. consumers deemed damaging to their children’s health.

McDonald’s, on the other hand, viewed the co-branding strategy as a means to actively promote healthier choices as part of its standard menu.

Ritson (2007) observed that while both brands had built solid equity in the United Kingdom, consumer purchasing decisions might be affected, since a significant disparity existed between the McDonald’s fast food consumer and the Innocent smoothie consumer.

However, the co-branding strategy in this case worked, Ritson (2007) argued, because both brands were established. As Ritson (2007) explains, “brand theory has…become more nuanced.

Many strong brands are able to build brand equity even if they retail in some incongruous locations” (p. 19). Furthermore, Ritson (2007) notes, co-branding theory supports the idea that when too robust brand enter into partnership, both brands ultimately benefit from a co-branding strategy. This benefit will be felt regardless of the pre-existing characteristics of the brand’s core consumer base (Ritson, 2007). As Ritson (2007) explains:

When two brands’ products are associated, both brands win. The positive associations and loyal consumers from each brand are transferred to the other. Innocent will become more mainstream and engage with another 5 million potential consumers. McDonald’s will become fresher, healthier and trustworthier.

Better still, none of the negative associations from either brand are likely to cross over, as co-brand research suggests only positive associations are exchanged. So Innocent won’t become tarnished with ecological unsoundness or junk-food associations (p. 19).

In the fast food industry besieged by the healthy eating lobby, McDonald’s U.K. has definitely become the target of choice, therefore any affiliation with a healthier alternative will likely bolster its sales.

London Based Fast Food Consumer Outlook on American Brands

Fullerton et al. (2010) conducted a study examining the relationship between brand attitudes and consumers in countries outside of the United States and discovered an unexpected outcome of the ongoing health eating lobby which has targeted many fast food firms, including McDonald’s, in recent years.

Fullerton et al. (2010) reported that when the respondents in their study were “describing Americans, the keyword fat was invoked by almost one-fifth of respondents, while fast-food brand McDonald’s emerged as the most disliked brand.

Perhaps, in the minds of international young adults, McDonald’s is linked with a constellation of negative attributes, including cultural imperialism, business globalization and American obesity” (p. 249).

The study surveyed the attitudes of 67 international students attending college in London toward some of the most powerful American brands, including the fast food giant McDonald’s (Fullerton, Kendrick and Randolph, 2010).

The study revealed that the relationship between international consumers and American brands remains complex and relatively individual; in many cases, the effect of American values and way of life is rejected while products and brand that originate in the United States remain widely sought after and welcomed.

“Numerous polls and studies reveal that while international audiences grew to think worse of American foreign policy, they still liked American people and businesses and they kept up their purchase patterns of American brands” (Fullerton, Kendrick and Randolph, 2010, p. 246).

Thus the impact of cultural attitudes, favourable or unfavourable, toward top fast food brands from the United States appears to exact an influence on customer’s purchasing decisions, particularly in the case of global, high equity brands such as McDonald’s.

Chan et al. (2007) conducted a study that examined the relationship between brand attitudes towards products engineered in the United States and preferences for brands that originate in the United States among university students from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. The researchers used a sample of 556 students attending higher education institutions in those three countries.

Of the sample surveyed, the QSR giant McDonald’s was consistently named as a favourite brands by students from two of the countries: in Australia, 9.9 per cent of the students named McDonald’s as a favourite brand, and 11.5 per cent of the students from Hong Kong also named McDonald’s.

Interestingly, this study also demonstrated that McDonald’s was one of the “most frequently mentioned US brand that the students in Australia said they disliked… [and] another 7.5 per cent [of the students from Hong Kong] included it on their least-liked brand list” (Chan et al., 2007, p. 10).

Roberts (2004) has coined the trademark qualities of what he calls a “lovemark brand [as] emotional attachment and intense loyalty” (p. 12). For the QSR brand, this study suggests that consumers within the same demographic may view McDonald’s as a lovemark brand while simultaneously viewing it as a loathemark brand (Chan et al., 2007; Roberts, 2004).

The pervasiveness of the McDonald’s brand indicates that brand awareness and brand equity is so high that consumers may harbour polarizing brand attitudes within the same demographic.

In a study gauging attitudes toward American brands in three Pacific Rim countries, Fullerton et al. (2007) applied the term loathemark to a brand or a concept that evoked hatred and rejection to both itself and the country it represents. The researchers noted that the same brands, such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Nike, could achieve both lovemark and loathemark status among international consumers (Fullerton et al., 2007).

This study provides further support for the complex relationship between fast food consumers in the United Kingdom and fast food brands that originate in the United States, and how this relationship affects the consumer purchasing process in the fast food product category.

De Bres (2005) conducted research into the impact of the penultimate American fast food brand, McDonald’s, on the culture of the United Kingdom. De Bres (2005) argues that the McDonald’s corporation has become more than a mere vendor of fast food; rather, the restaurant chain “does not modify its way of doing business to adapt to foreign cultures, but changes local cultures to meet its own needs” (p. 115).

As a result of this attitude, De Bres (2005) posits, the brand has earned the ire of many a cultural critic, including the vilifying comment by Watson (2002) that the McDonald’s brand represents a “saturated symbol for everything that environmentalists, protectionists, and anti-capitalist activists find objectionable about American culture” (p. 352).

However, the impact of cultural distaste for American values amongst London QSR consumers does not appear to definitively affect their purchasing decisions. As Fullerton (2005) notes, “the death of Brand America is greatly exaggerated…For example, the French do not hold especially favourable attitudes towards George W. Bush, but they have no problem eating at McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysees” (p. 132).

The main criticism of McDonald’s from a cultural perspective is its status as “an icon of global homogenization of both landscapes and culinary tastes that are identified with” implicit American values and lifestyles (De Bres, 2005, p. 124). In addition, the McDonald’s brand maintains a “cultural hegemony which disregards local popular culture and conventions” (De Bres, 2005, p. 124).

In the United Kingdom, De Bres (2005) argues, the McDonald’s brand “has established a sense of place that is recognized worldwide, [and] in doing so other, older notions of identity and belonging may be challenged” (p. 124).

From the perspective of culture, the global fast food brands such as McDonald’s have successfully infiltrated foreign cultures and as such stand as purveyors of the cultural ethos that describes their country of origin.

While De Bres (2005) notes a McDonald’s consumer survey in 1994 lambasted the brand as “loud, brash, complacent, uncaring, insensitive, insincere, suspicious, disciplinarian, and arrogant,” the success of the fast food chain in the United Kingdom cannot be denied (p. 125).

Demand for McDonald’s products remains high. This reality, as well as the finding of the other studies reviewed in this chapter, appears to support the researcher’s position that brand equity and brand loyalty toward fast food chains, even those that originate in foreign countries such as the United States, will supersede cultural opposition in the London fast food consumer purchasing decision process.

Summary

Chapter II contains the literature review. The literature review has been divided into several subsections that discuss various elements of the topic; these subsections are designed to support and expand upon the research questions that guide the study as a whole.

These subsections include new products and product innovations, the customer value proposition offered, discussions about promotions and strategies, and the impact of the obesity epidemic and corresponding healthy eating lobby on QSR firms’ brand equity, brand loyalty, and sales. Chapter II also contains an overview of some studies that investigate the London consumer outlook on American brands.

Methodology

The following chapter outlines the methods used to investigate the central research question: does brand name have an impact on the customer decision-making process in the top five London fast-food restaurant chains? The study utilizes both primary and secondary research in an effort to determine the answers to the guiding research questions.

The primary research method consists of a random survey that the researcher conducted in London using a random sample of London fast food consumers as participants. The secondary research method utilizes the qualitative research technique of document analysis to develop the thesis that cost rather than brand name exacts the largest influence on customer decision-making processes in London fast-food establishments.

The sample of participants that the researcher used for the fast food consumer survey was selected randomly from consumers based in and around the greater London metropolitan area.

A large segment of the consumer population in London city proper has been identified as regular patrons of fast food establishments such as Subway, KFC, Domino’s Pizza, and McDonald’s; therefore, exploring the buying behavior and purchasing decision processes demonstrated by this group may offer some new insights for both fast food firms and marketing researchers.

The size of the primary research sample was 120. Of this sample, three sub groups were delineated into smaller groups of 30 participants, according to the age of the respondent: respondents aged 18 to 30; respondents aged 30 to 45, and respondents aged 45 to 60. A total of 120 adults completed the survey, which was then evaluated using statistical analyses.

The researcher endeavoured to determine a measure of brand loyalty among the respondents for the fast food firms featured in this study: Subway, YUM! Brands, which includes KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger.

Within the product category of fast food, the goal of the survey was to measure brand loyalty and its impact on the London fast food consumer’s purchasing decision process.

The researcher anticipated that varying degrees of attachment and loyalty to global fast food brand names would become apparent vis à vis the survey; therefore nine individual survey questions were developed and used in the survey to measure different instances of the London fast food customer’s purchasing decision process and buying behavior in the fast food product category.

While the sample size remains on the small side, the researcher expects that the respondents’ answers will nonetheless offer some key insights into the complex relationship between fast food consumers, global fast food brands, and consumer purchasing decision processes and buying behaviour.

The information gleaned from these responses will be of value to both fast food firms seeking brand equity measurement and demonstrated instances of brand loyalty in action.

The researcher also anticipates that the results of the survey will be of value in an academic capacity for market researchers, and will contribute to the existing body of knowledge circulating in regards to brand equity, brand awareness, brand loyalty, consumer behaviour, and the consumer purchasing decision process in the fast food product category.

Survey Questions

The researcher crafted the survey questions in a manner designed to reveal brand engagement in the London fast food consumer and ascertain the extent to which brand engagement, brand attachment and brand loyalty affected the consumer’s purchase decision process. The researcher posed the following questions to each of the respondents, according to his or her corresponding age group:

  1. Do you care about the brand name when you are selecting a fast food restaurant?
  2. If the answer to the first question is yes, does the fast food restaurant need to be a globally recognised brand?
  3. In your opinion, why do you believe that globally recognised fast food brand names are better than local or unrecognised fast food brands?
  4. Do you believe there is a significant difference in product quality between globally recognised fast food brand names and local or unrecognised fast food brands?
  5. Would you be willing to spend more money for a branded fast food product?
  6. What is the maximum amount you would be willing to spend on a branded fast food product per person in the current economic environment?
  7. Would you be willing to change your regular fast food branded restaurant in case of a price increase?
  8. Would you be willing to switch from your regular fast food branded restaurant to a normal restaurant if it offered higher quality food?
  9. Do marketing and promotion campaigns from competitor fast food branded restaurant change your image about other brands?

Survey Format

The survey was designed to attract responses pertaining to brand awareness, brand equity, brand loyalty, brand engagement and brand attachment among London fast food consumers.

The researcher posed questions in a manner which would demonstrate the impact of brand equity on the consumer’s purchasing decision process. The survey questions were sufficiently open ended to facilitate unbiased responses from the participants, while maintaining enough specificity to be useful markers of brand engagement and brand attachment.

Study Design

The research design of a study refers to the methods that the researcher employs to obtain the information for use within the study (De Vaus, 2001; Denzin, 1970; Schumacher and McMillan, 1993).

The design of the research must facilitate objectivity to the best of the researcher’s ability (De Vaus, 2001; Denzin, 1970; Schumacher and McMillan, 1993). The research design also needs to permit the researcher to respond to each of the research questions in the most unequivocal manner possible (De Vaus, 2001; Denzin, 1970; Schumacher and McMillan, 1993).

The goal of this study was to determine the impact of fast-food brand names on buyer behaviour in London. The purpose of the research was to ascertain the extent to which London-based quick-service restaurant consumers factor brand recognition or brand awareness when presented with choice between the top five competing fast food firms in the city.

The researcher intended to glean whether or not the brand name has an effect on customer decision-making processes in London, to what extent the brand name helps fast food firms to attract more customers around London, and to what extent cost factors in to decision-making process, independent of brand awareness.

The researcher also sought to understand how the strength of a brand name may or may not give fast food firms a competitive advantage over one another.

Document analysis refers to an orderly method of examining and appraising various forms of documents as a means to acquire meaning and relevance for a research study.

In the same manner as several other analytical procedures and techniques found in qualitative research, document analysis entails that the collected data be investigated and decoded to discover relevance, acquire understanding, and build upon the existing base of observed knowledge in relation to the phenomenon or phenomena under investigation (Bowen, 2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008; Patton, 1990; Rapley, 2007).

The principal research caveat that the researcher encountered – which will be discussed under study limitations – is that in document analysis, the documents under investigation “contain text…, words…and images that have been recorded without a researcher’s intervention” (Bowen, 2009, p. 28).

The documents that a researcher might use for a study based in the document analysis method of qualitative research vary widely. The researcher may choose to employ a number of items for “systematic evaluation” once he or she has deemed them relevant to the research questions (Bowen, 2009, p. 28).

These items include “advertisements, agendas, attendance registers, and minutes of meetings, manuals, background papers, books and brochures, diaries and journals, event programs [and] printed outlines, letters and memoranda, maps and charts, newspaper clippings and articles, press releases, program proposals, application forms, and summaries, radio and television program scripts, organisational or institutional reports, survey data, and various public records.

Scrapbooks and photo albums can also furnish documentary material for research purposes” (Bowen, 2009, p. 28).

This study utilizes a range of print sources, consumer surveys, academic journals, official government statistics, economic reports, and business backgrounders, as well as electronically based sources such as computer generated material and material created and disseminated for and by the Internet to meet the research goals and purposes hitherto discussed, and expound upon existing knowledge in the field of brand management (Bowen, 2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008; Labuschagne, 2003).

The critical method employed in document analysis procedures requires the acquisition, distillation, and critical evaluation of the data gleaned from within the documents that the researchers assembles; decoding occurs at the same time that the researcher synthesizes the information obtained from the documents (Bowen, 2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008; Denzin and Lincoln, 2011; Labuschagne, 2003).

Thus, the researcher determines the relevance of the documents to the research questions as he or she encounters them. The document analysis research method generates data such as extracts, quotes, or full cited passages that the researcher then classifies according to any significant themes that develop (Bowen, 2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008; Labuschagne, 2003).

Key themes, groupings, and patterns emerge specifically via the close analytical relationship that develops between the researcher and the content (Bowen, 2009; Labuschagne, 2003).

As a research technique, document analysis remains perfectly suitable for qualitative case studies or “intensive studies producing rich descriptions of a single phenomenon, event, organisation, or program” (Bowen, 2009, p. 29; Stake, 1995; Yin, 1994). The documents collected using the document analysis research method provides several different purposes of use to the qualitative researcher embarking upon a study.

The material collected as part of document analysis research method gives the researcher access to areas of research that would remain unavailable in other qualitative research practices and methods such as surveys and interviews. As Bowen (2009) explains, “documents can provide data on the context within which research participants operate.

The information contained in documents can suggest some questions that need to be asked and situations that need to be observed as part of the research documents provide supplementary research data.

Information and insights derived from documents can be valuable additions to a knowledge base documents provide a means of tracking change and development documents can be analysed as a way to verify findings or corroborate evidence from other sources” (p. 29).

For the purposes of this study, the researcher chose the document analysis research method for the following reasons:

Economical Technique

Compared to other forms of qualitative research, the document analysis research method occupies less time for the researcher, as it “requires data selection, instead of data collection” (Bowen, 2009, p. 29). Efficiency-wise, the document analysis research method surpasses other research methods.

Ease of Use

Compared to other forms of qualitative research, many of the documents used in this study were available via online sources. As Bowen (2009) explains, “many documents are in the public domain, especially since the advent of the Internet, and are obtainable without the authors’ permission” (p. 29).

Low Cost Alternative

Compared to other forms of qualitative research, the document analysis research method of data collection remains more cost effective. Similarly, researchers often employ the document analysis research method when the acquisition of new data cannot be made economically viable.

As Bowen (2009) explains, “the data …contained in documents…have already been gathered; what remains is for the content and quality of the documents to be evaluated” (p. 29).

Less Intrusion and Built-In Guards against Reactivity and Reflexivity

Reactivity in psychology and sociology refers to the phenomenon that occurs when research subjects internalize the understanding that they are being observed and alter their behaviour as a result (Heppner et al., 2008).

In research design, “the dependent variable should be sensitive to some characteristic of the participant, but the assessment process itself should not affect the characteristic directly; that is, the dependent measure should indicate how the participant functions normally.

Sometimes, something about obtaining scores on dependent measure alters the situation so that false readings are obtained…For example, a person may smoke less when asked to record the number of cigarettes smoked” (Heppner et al., 2008, p. 331).

The documents obtained via the document analysis research method remain inconspicuous and lacking in reactivity because they are “unaffected by the research process” (Bowen, 2009, p. 29).

The document analysis research method of data collection safeguards against the “the concerns related to reflexivity…or the lack of it…inherent in other qualitative research methods” (Bowen, 2009, p. 29). Similarly, reflexivity in qualitative research refers to the impact that the researcher will have upon the research (Bowen, 2009; Finlay and Gough, 2003).

Reflexivity is the ongoing “project of examining how the researcher and intersubjective elements impact upon and transform research” (Finlay and Gough, 2003, p. 4).

Reflexivity necessitates an ongoing attentiveness to the researcher’s role in the creation of meanings that stem from interpersonal communications, and requires the recognition that the researcher can and often does influence the findings of his or her research, consciously or unconsciously (Bowen, 2009; Finlay and Gough, 2003).

In the document analysis research method, observation does not affect the documents themselves, because they are static, non-human subjects (Bowen, 2009).

Constancy

In the document analysis research method, the gathered documents remain fixed, stable objects appropriate for several re-examinations and reassessments as the research project progresses (Bowen, 2009). The constancy of the documents also means that the presence of the researcher does not transform their content (Bowen, 2009; Merriam, 1988).

Accuracy

For researchers, the presence of precise names, dates, occurrences, facts, and information found in the document gathered during the document analysis research method makes these documents particularly beneficial during the study phase (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994).

Treatment

The documents collected as part of the during the document analysis research method typically cover a wide range of historical periods, proceedings, and facts (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994).

These documents also record numerous settings, contexts, and points of view; therefore, the documents treat a far more broad range of perspectives, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds than a single researcher could gain access to in a single survey or interview setting (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994)

Throughout the study, the researcher intended to demonstrate the ability to recognize relevant data from the document sources collected and to detach it from the data that the researcher deemed irrelevant or secondary (Bowen, 2009; Corbin and Strauss, 2008).

The researcher also relied significantly on thematic analysis to conduct this study. Thematic analysis refers to a type of pattern identification that emerges from within the data sources, as they are being studied, that proves relevant to the research questions (Bowen, 2009; Fereday and Muir-Cochrane, 2006).

The method of thematic analysis follows a thorough, close reading of the documents under investigation; the data under review is closely analyzed to discover inherent patterns (Bowen, 2009; Fereday and Muir-Cochrane, 2006).

The researcher performs a thorough evaluation of the chosen data and determines specific “coding and category construction, based on the data’s characteristics, to uncover themes pertinent to a phenomenon” (Bowen, 2009, p. 33).

These rising themes eventually derive the categories that organize the overall structure of the study and the phenomenon under analysis, in this case buyer behaviour and brand recognition (Bowen, 2009; Fereday and Muir-Cochrane, 2006).

The secondary research method of analysis utilizes the qualitative research technique of document analysis to develop the thesis that cost rather than brand name exacts the largest influence on customer decision-making processes in London fast-food establishments.

The researcher posits that brand recognition plays a significant role in the decision-making process of the London fast food consumer. The study also analyzes other consumer surveys conducted in London between the years 2009 and 2011 to determine the impact of the global recession on London-based consumers’ fast-food restaurant preferences.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of the study was to determine the relationships between the brand names of top fast-food restaurants in London and the consumer decision making process.

The ultimate goal of the research was to demonstrate a causal link between brand engagement, brand loyalty, and brand attachment and the consumer decision making process when choosing fast food restaurants in London. The guiding research question that informed the study sought to answer the question do London fast food consumers care about brand names when choosing fast food restaurants?

The consumer survey facilitated the creation of useful primary research and a sample of respondents indicative of a larger group of consumers.

The researcher conducted the consumer survey in an effort to access the target market most likely to provide useful and timely information for the purposes of the study, as well as those most likely to offer pertinent responses to the research questions based on their own real time experiences with the brand.

The qualitative research method of document analysis used to analyse the secondary research in this study allowed the researcher to study a wide range of primary and secondary documents in order to cement a theory around brand recognition, brand awareness, brand strategy, consumer spending, consumer decision-making, and the influence of the economic climate between 2009 and 2011 on all of these factors.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study:

  1. What do the fast food customers in London think of fast food restaurants, and how important is a brand name to them when making food choices?
  2. Do fast food customers in London really care about brand name, or do they select it due to the low price?
  3. How do the fast food customers in London compare their regular restaurant with its competitive firms?
  4. Do fast food firms acquire any form of a competitive advantage due to their brand name?
  5. To what extent do marketing and promotion campaigns attract people from competitive brands?

The researcher made every attempt to interpret both the primary and the secondary sources of research collected using these five questions as guides.

Data Collection

Data collection is a vital element of a research study that helps to legitimize the research findings; it also affords the study with credibility and maintains the integrity of the study and the researcher’s purpose.

The results of the consumer survey were collected using the surveys distributed to a random sample of fast food patrons among the top six fast food firms in London: Subway, McDonald’s, YUM! Brands, including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC, Domino’s Pizza, Eat Ltd., and Prêt a Manger.

For the purposes of this study, the grounded theory developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967) directed the collection of documents used to create the body of secondary research. Grounded theory refers to the uncovering of a viable theoretical direction for research gleaned from the data itself (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

As Bowen (2009) explains, “in grounded theory research, as in other forms of qualitative inquiry, the investigator is the primary instrument of data collection and analysis” (p. 29). In this dual role of investigator and analyst, the researcher “relies on skills as well as intuition and filters data through an interpretive lens” (Bowen, 2009, p. 29).

As both investigator and analyst, the researcher concurrently mines and examines the data that has been extracted from the selected documents in a form of hypothetical sampling, or as Strauss and Corbin (1990) explain, “sampling on the basis of concepts that have proven theoretical relevance to the evolving theory” (p. 176).

In data collection based on grounded theory, the theory that guides the study evolves via the concomitant collection of data, and the researcher serves the simultaneous functions of theory designer, theory builder, and data filtration unit (Bowen, 2009; Charmaz, 2011; Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

Data Analysis

The results of the consumer survey were examined using analyses of variance. The analyses were conducted to determine whether or not the survey results demonstrated a significant statistical difference between the responses across the three different age groups represented by the survey.

The researcher endeavoured to measure brand loyalty as indicated by score – high scores were interpreted to indicate a particular loyalty with a corresponding global fast food brand.

In addition, the attitudes and beliefs that determine the consumer purchasing decision process and buying behaviour in regards to the brand were examined. The researcher interpreted the results according to the age group reflected by the responses.

For the purposes of this study, the constant comparative method developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967) directed the data analysis. The data analysis was established upon an inductive methodology. The constant comparative method “does not supplant the skills and sensitivities required in generating theory.

Rather, the constant comparative method is designed to aid the analyst who possesses these abilities in generating a theory that is integrated, consistent, plausible [and] close to the data….

Still dependent on the skills and sensitivities of the analyst, the constant comparative method is not designed…as methods of quantitative analysis are…to guarantee that two analysts working independently with the same data will achieve the same results.

It is designed to allow, with discipline, for some of the vagueness and flexibility that aid the creative generation of theory” (p. 103).

As such, the researcher aimed to make out patterns and models within the data collected that supported the theoretical goals of the project, while simultaneously recognizing and cataloguing relevant theoretical elements located in the data that could lead to further insights (Bowen, 2009; Glaser and Strauss, 1967)

Study Limitations

In regards to the primary research, the main limitation of the consumer survey remains the small size of the sample. At 120 respondents, the sample may be too small to reflect the buying behaviour and the consumer purchasing decision process undertaken by the London fast food consumer when choosing a fast food restaurant.

Also, the sample itself did not take into consideration any other factors besides age which might influence brand loyalty and the consumer purchasing decision process such as gender, socio-economic status, religion, race, or country of origin.

Aside from the basic limitations of reactivity and lack of reflexivity inherent in all forms of qualitative research previously discussed, the document analysis research method utilized for the secondary research component contains several limitations that may affect the outcome of the study.

The most significant limitation of the document analysis research method is that the documents themselves may lack crucial details (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994). Documents created outside of the research paradigm are by nature created for another purpose besides research; their original purpose affects the quality and quantity of valid research that they contain.

The documents might have been intended to sell, persuade, dissuade, or assert a particular agenda. As such, they may or may not contain the detail sufficient to answer the research questions (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994). In addition, the details that the documents do contain may be cursory or irrelevant.

Secondly, in the case of documents produced for purpose besides research, the researcher may encounter issues related to lack of retrievability (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994).

As Bowen (2009) explains, “document created independent of a research agenda…are sometimes not retrievable, or retrievability is difficult” (p. 33). In addition, in some cases the researcher will encounter intentional obstacles to the retrieval of the information contained in the documents (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994).

Thirdly, documents created for purposes other than research may contain an inherent bias associated with their original purpose (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994). This phenomenon, known as “biased selectivity” occurs when a document or collection of documents deliberately omits a key event or piece of information (Bowen, 2009; Yin, 1994, p. 80).

This inherent selection bias on the part of the document’s originators affects the objectivity of the whole document and must be taken into account by the researcher. As Bowen (2009) explains, “in an organisational context, the available…selected…documents are likely to be aligned with corporate policies and procedures and with the agenda of the organisation’s principals” (p. 33).

Summary

Chapter III describes the methodology of the research and outlines the design of the study. This chapter contains an overview of the data collection and data analysis methods used to interpret the findings from the consumer survey that served as the primary research component of the study.

Chapter III also includes a detailed description and explanation of the document analysis research method used by the researcher to conduct the secondary research component of the study.

This chapter contains a description of the grounded theory approach used by the researcher in the collection of the research data, and also describes the constant comparative method the researcher employed to analyze the data collected (Bowen, 2009; Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

In addition, this chapter contains the research questions that guided the study and the consumer survey questions, and describes the limitations of the chosen research designs and methods that may affect the outcome of the study findings.

Findings

Robust brand equity remains significantly associated with increased revenues for fast food restaurants (Kim and Kim, 2004; Lee, 2011). Several previous studies featured in this literature review have demonstrated the direct correlation between brand recognition, brand equity, brand awareness, brand image, brand loyalty, and the consumer purchasing decision process.

Studies also support the theory that fast food brands with strong brand equity enjoy a higher degree of perceived quality among the consumers that have become attached to that brand. Fast food consumers that display brand loyalty will actively choose their fast food brand over competitors, often despite marketing and promotional tactics such as lower prices (Kim and Kim, 2004; Lee, 2011)

The following study endeavoured to test the power of brand names as a means of influencing the buying behaviour and the consumer purchasing decision process of fast food consumers in the city of London. The goal of the survey was to determine the extent to which brand equity and brand loyalty factors in to the consumer’s purchase decision.

The researcher’s hypothesis for the study is that brand equity affects consumer choices and consumer buying behaviour. Brand awareness, brand equity and brand loyalty demonstrated significant effect on the purchasing decisions of the consumers surveyed.

The results also demonstrate that brand loyalty affects the choice of restaurant to the exclusion of other factors such as availability and cost. The results also indicate that the quality of the food purchased remains of paramount importance to the London fast food consumers that the researcher surveyed.

The researcher separated the primary data into nine different tables that corresponded with each of the survey questions. For the primary data, the researcher utilized a total sample size of 120 adult respondents.

This sample was then further delineated into a sample size that corresponded with each group: 30 participants in the age group represented by 18 through 30 year olds; the age group represented by 31 through 45 year olds, and the age group represented by 46 through 60 year old.

These samples included fast food adult consumers located in the city of London. These respondents were chosen at random. The participants received survey questionnaires in regards to their purchasing behaviour for the brand name fast food retailers in London. The results of each question are listed below:

Sample Size for Each Age Group: 30 (30×3 =120)

Survey Question: Do you care about the brand name of the restaurant when you are selecting a fast food restaurant?

Table 1. Survey Question: Do you care about the brand name of the restaurant when you are selecting a fast food restaurant?

Table 1 indicates the responses to the question do you care about the brand name if you are selecting fast food restaurant? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes I do, Not at all, Maybe, and Other. In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, the vast majority of the respondents – 21 out of 30 – responded Yes I do.

16 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered Yes I do, while 11 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds answered yes I do. The results of the survey responses to this question indicate that younger fast food consumers in London are more brand loyal and are more influenced by the brand name of a fast food purveyor when they make their purchasing decisions.

Survey Question: If the response to the first question was yes I do, does the fast food restaurant need to be a globally recognised brand in order for you to choose it?

Table 2. Survey Question: If the response to the first question was yes I do, does the fast food restaurant need to be a globally recognised brand in order for you to choose it?

Table 2 indicates the responses to the question if the response to the first question was yes I do, does the fast food restaurant need to be a globally recognised brand in order for you to choose it? T

he respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes, No, Depends on the food that I’m looking for, and Other. In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, the vast majority of the respondents – 23 out of 30 – responded Yes.

18 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered Yes, while 18 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes.

The results of the survey responses to this question indicate that while younger fast food consumers in London are more likely to choose a brand name fast food restaurant and are more influenced by the brand name of a fast food purveyor when they make their purchasing decisions, the same is also true of older clientele.

Survey Question: According to you, do you think that globally recognised brand name fast food restaurants are better than unrecognised fast food restaurants?

Table 3. Survey Question: According to you, do you think that globally recognised brand name fast food restaurants are better than unrecognised fast food restaurants?

Table 3 indicates the responses to the question according to you, do you think that globally recognised brand name fast food restaurants are better than unrecognised fast food restaurants? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes, because that means the food is better, Yes, because that means the service is better, Both one and two are correct, and Other.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, nearly 50 percent of the respondents – 11 out of 30 – responded Yes, because that means the food is better. 6 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered Yes, because that means the food is better, while 8 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes, because that means the food is better.

6 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Yes, because that means the service is better. 3 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered Yes, because that means the service is better, while 5 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes, because that means the service is better.

Overwhelmingly, the respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds and 46 to 60 year olds chose both answers.

The results of the survey responses to this question indicate that while the fast food consumers in London reflected in this survey are far more likely to hold a higher perception of the quality of the food produced by a fast food brand name when they make their purchasing decisions. Consumer perception of the quality and superiority of the brand over its competitors therefore remains consistent across all three age groups.

Survey Question: Do think there’s a significant different in products between globally recognise brand names and others?

Table 4. Survey Question: Do think there’s a significant different in products between globally recognise brand names and others?

Table 4 indicates the responses to the question do think there’s a significant different in products between globally recognised brand names and others? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes, No, Sometimes, and Other.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, the overwhelming majority of the respondents – 22 out of 30 – responded Yes. 23 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Yes, while 21 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes.

Only 4 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered No. 5 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered No, while 4 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered No.

Overwhelmingly, the respondents in the age categories represented by 18 to 30 year olds, 31 to 45 year olds and 46 to 60 year olds chose Yes as a response.

The results of the survey responses to this question indicate that the fast food consumers in London reflected in this survey are far more likely to believe that the quality of the food products offered by a fast food brand name is superior to its competitors as well as to unrecognised brands in the same product category.

Therefore, the responses to this question indicate that fast food consumers are predisposed to choose global brand names based on an assumption of superiority, which in turn affects their buying behaviour and their purchasing decisions. Consumer perception of the quality and superiority of the brand over its competitors again remains consistent across all three age groups.

Survey Question: Are you willing to spend more if it’s a branded product?

Table 5. Survey Question: Are you willing to spend more if it’s a branded product?

Table 5 indicates the responses to the question are you willing to spend more if it’s a branded product? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes I will, No, Maybe, and Other.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, nearly half of the respondents – 14 out of 30 – responded Yes I will. 13 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Yes I will, while 13 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes I will.

12 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered No. 6 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds answered No, while 4 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered No.

3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Maybe. 10 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Maybe, while 9 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Maybe.

Overwhelmingly, the respondents in the age categories represented by 18 to 30 year olds, 31 to 45 year olds and 46 to 60 year olds asserted that they would be willing to spend more money for a brand name fast food product.

The results of the survey responses to this question indicate that the fast food consumers in London reflected in this survey are far more likely to forgo cost savings in order to choose a global fast food brand name product. These results further indicate the consumer perception of the quality and superiority of the global fast food brand name over its competitors. Again, these results were consistent across all three age groups.

Survey Question: What is the maximum amount you are willing to spend on branded fast food restaurant (Per Person) in current economic environment?

Table 6. Survey Question: What is the maximum amount you are willing to spend on branded fast food restaurant (Per Person) in current economic environment?

Table 6 indicates the responses to the question what is the maximum amount you are willing to spend on branded fast food restaurant (Per Person) in current economic environment? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: 0 to 5 pounds, 5 to 10 pounds, 10 to 15 pounds, and 15 to 20 pounds.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, nearly half of the respondents – 12 out of 30 – responded 0 to 5 pounds. 18 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered 0 to 5 pounds, while 16 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered 0 to 5 pounds. 10 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered 5 to 10 pounds.

7 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered 5 to 10 pounds, while 7 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered 5 to 10 pounds.

7 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered 10 to 15 pounds. 4 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered 10 to 15 pounds, while 6 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered 10 to 15 pounds.

Finally, 1 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered 15 to 20 pounds. 1 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered 15 to 20 pounds, while 1 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered 15 to 20 pounds.

These results indicate that the fast food consumers reflected in this survey are willing to spend upwards of 10 pounds on a fast food meal from a global brand name in the recovering economic environment.

Survey Question: Will you be willing to change your regular restaurant in case of a price increase?

Table 7. Survey Question: Will you be willing to change your regular restaurant in case of a price increase?

Table 7 indicates the responses to the question will you be willing to change your regular restaurant in case of a price increase? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes I will, No, Not sure, and other.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, a small number – 8 out of 30 – responded Yes I will. 9 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Yes I will, while 13 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes I will.

17 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered No. 16 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered No, while 11 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered No. 2 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Not sure.

3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Not sure, while 3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Not sure. Finally, 3 of the 30 respondents in each age category answered Other.

These results overwhelmingly indicate that the fast food consumers reflected in this survey are brand loyal; they are not willing to change the brand of restaurant that they have become attached to, and they are willing to spend more money to stay with the brand of restaurant that they have become attached to, even in the recovering economic environment.

Survey Question: Will you be willing to switch from your branded restaurant to a normal restaurant if they offer higher quality food?

Table 8. Survey Question: Will you be willing to switch from your branded restaurant to a normal restaurant if they offer higher quality food?

Table 8 indicates the responses to the question will you be willing to switch from your branded restaurant to a normal restaurant if they offer higher quality food? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes I will, No, Maybe, and Other.

In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, a small number – 9 out of 30 – responded Yes I will. 16 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Yes I will, while 15 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes I will.

14 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered No. 6 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered No, while 4 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered No.

5 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Maybe. 7 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Maybe, while 8 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Maybe.

Finally, 4 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Other. 1 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Other, while 3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Other.

These results indicate that the quality of the fast food that the consumers reflected in this survey eat remains more important among the older age groups, which may indicate an increased concern with health based on age.

Survey Question: Do marketing and promotion campaigns change your image about other brands?

Table 9. Survey Question: Do marketing and promotion campaigns change your image about other brands?

Table 9 indicates the responses to the question do marketing and promotion campaigns change your image about other brands? The respondents were asked the question and then given the following choices of response: Yes, No, Sometimes, and other. In the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds, nearly 50 percent of the respondents – 12 out of 30 – responded Yes.

9 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Yes, while 11 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Yes.

14 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered No. 12 of the 30 respondents in the age category represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered No, while 12 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered No.

3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Sometimes. 7 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Sometimes, while 6 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Sometimes.

Finally, 1 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 18 to 30 year olds answered Other. 3 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 31 to 45 year olds also answered Other, while 5 of the 30 respondents in the age group represented by 46 to 60 year olds also answered Other. These results overwhelmingly indicate that the fast food consumers reflected in this survey are brand loyal.

Nearly 50 percent of the respondents surveyed remain unaffected by the marketing and promotional efforts of the competitors of their brand of choice.

They are not willing to change the brand of restaurant that they have become attached to, regardless of the promotion, and they actively seek to remain loyal to the global fast food restaurant brand of restaurant that they have become attached to, even in the recovering economic environment.

Secondary Data

The researcher compiled information from the Greater London Authority’s report Spending Time: London’s Leisure Economy, an overview of the various players located in the city of London in the product category of eating out, take out foods, and fast foods. The documents collected from the Greater London Authority provide valuable insight into the dining out market of the city of London in the 21st century.

London represents one of Britain’s largest dining out markets. According to the Greater London Authority (2005), the city of London houses 6,128 licensed restaurants; this figure represents an astonishing 22 per cent of all of the restaurants located in the United Kingdom.

The Greater London Authority (2005) estimates that in 2002, the total amount of revenue generated by dining out and take out or eat-in fast food restaurants in Britain was approximately £15.5 billion.

Market calculations compiled by the Greater London Authority Economics demonstrate that the demand for traditional restaurants generates £5 billion, while fast food restaurants earn £3 billion annually (Greater London Authority, 2005). An additional £1.75 billion in revenue is generated by fast food take out service and drive thrus (Greater London Authority, 2005).

Overall, the fast food industry represents a total value to the London economy of £1.43 billion. Over £0.9 billion is from eat-in restaurants and over £0.5 billion is fast food takeaway. (Greater London Authority, 2005).

The main competitors of the fast food industry, other than fast food brands that occupy the same product category, include ethnic restaurants, casual dining establishments, coffee shops, cafés, and pubs (Greater London Authority, 2005).

The ethnic restaurants in the greater London area have been appraised at a value of £3 billion (Greater London Authority, 2005). Coffee shops and cafés located in the city have also been assessed at a value of nearly £2.7 billion (Greater London Authority, 2005).

According to the Greater London Authority (2005), these figures conceal certain transformations in dining out market, particularly in relation to fast food. Burger chains and global fast food brands burgers represent 11 per cent of the total eating out market; however, growth is deemed sluggish (Greater London Authority, 2005).

In contrast, the areas of growth in the dining out market include “restaurant pubs and gastro pubs with 9 per cent of the market, and pizza and pasta restaurants with 5 per cent” (Greater London Authority, 2005, p. 31).

Within the eating out market in the city of London, many different players compete for market share. As the Greater London Authority (2005) explains, “while small, privately run enterprises make up the majority of the market, large multiple operators are shaping the dining culture of Britain.

Sixty-eight per cent of the dining market consists of independent operators. Restaurants and cafés are a market that independent entrepreneurs can readily enter” (p. 31).

However, independent operators that lack the brand equity of global fast food firms often struggle to compete effectively and generate consistent clientele (Greater London Authority, 2005). This phenomenon has been witnessed extensively since the beginning of the recession, although independent operators still produce market gains in lunch traffic and takeout food services. As the Greater London Authority (2005) notes:

Independents are strong at the low end of the market in sandwich bars and takeaways, and the mid-market of white tablecloth’ restaurants. Ethnic restaurants are characterised by independents and family businesses, although a few multi-outlet chains have emerged in London. Independent operators are being squeezed by the growth of chains, especially in the mid market and the coffee shop and café market (p. 31).

According to the Greater London Authority (2005), many of the global fast food brands featured in this study are “growing through ownership and franchise” (p. 31). This is especially true of fast food firms that have built much of their brand equity on the strength of their franchises such as Subway and Domino’s Pizza.

The fast food market in the city of London is dominated by “large companies and their familiar brands” (Greater London Authority, 2005, p. 31). The landscape of fast food in London remains largely the province of the global fast food brands that originate in the United States. As the Greater London Authority (2005) explains:

The burger market is led by McDonalds which has around 1,200 outlets in Britain and over 200 in London. Burger King has 700 outlets nationwide and almost 100 in London.

Other recognisable fast food brands have a large presence in London, such as KFC and Pizza Hut which each have over 80 outlets in London. Chains are shaping the mid-market for restaurants, illustrated by Italian-style outlets such as Ask and Pizza Express” (p. 31).

In the dining out market in London, the area of greatest recognisable growth occurs in the coffee market, particularly in the proliferation of coffee shop chains such as Starbucks. “There is intense competition between hundreds of coffee shops on the high streets of central London.

Starbucks is the leading chain with over 100 outlets in London. Costa Coffee and Prêt a Manger have up to 90 outlets” (Greater London Authority, 2005, p. 31). Coffee chains at the present time do not compete directly with fast food establishments.

Top Six Fast Food Brands in the U.K.

In 2011, the annual revenue of the QSR industry in the U.K. amounted to over 5 billion pounds (IBIS World, 2011). The quick service restaurant sector in the U.K. houses over 27,000 competitors and employs over 166,000 people (IBIS World, 2011).

Subway

Fred De Luca and Peter Buck founded the privately held Subway, also known as Doctor’s Associates, in 1966 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2010; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Haymarket Business Publications, 2009).

At that time, the chain was called Pete’s Super Submarines; De Luca and Buck changed the name to Doctor’s Associates, Inc. (DAI) when the second Subway store opened (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

From then on, Subway has grown to become one of the largest franchise outfits in the world; as of March, 2011, the company operates 34,187 stores in 95 countries and territories worldwide (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

Subway’s franchise model underpins much of the company’s success. As Simms (2011) notes, Subway’s “franchise model allows rapid expansion with low risk to the parent company. If the franchisee succeeds, so does the parent company.

If they fail, the company just moves on” (n. pag.). Subway is now recognized as the top single brand global QSR chain; after Yum! Brands, the Subway restaurant chain is the largest global restaurant outfit (Charles, 2008; Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

The company’s headquarters are located in Milford, Connecticut; five international centres oversee its global operations (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

The London Subway franchises are supported by the regional office located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which also looks after all of the European franchises (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

Subway boasts an aggressive and rapid expansion mandate. According to Simms (2011), “in 2002, Subway announced plans to open 2,000 outlets in the UK and Ireland by 2010. So far it has made it to 1,507, but claims to be opening new outlets at the rate of five every week” (n. pag.).

The Subway restaurant chain earns $15.2 billion in revenue every year (Doctor’s Associates Inc., 2005; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Haymarket Business Publications, 2010). In 2011, Subway was named to the top 10 of Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 10 in Franchise 500 list and boasts an innovative celebrity endorsement marketing platform (Close Up Media, 2011; Daley, 2011).

McDonald’s

McDonald’s represents one of the world’s first “borderless” QSR multinational corporations (Technology Strategies, 1996, p. 19). In the QSR industry, McDonald’s is the global stalwart. The first McDonald’s appeared in London in 1974 (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

In terms of global business operations, including assorted franchisees as well as McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd., the McDonald’s Corporation takes the top spot in international QSR profits (Euromonitor International, 2010; Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010). According to Euromonitor International (2010), the McDonald’s Corporation continues to be the “number one player within fast food” (n.pag.)

The company accounted for a 16 percent share of fast food sales in 2010, although compared to 2009 the share increase was minimal (Euromonitor International, 2010). According to Euromonitor International (2010), “after rationalising its outlet portfolio in 2009, the company opened only one new unit in 2010.

McDonald’s appeared more focused on establishing its credentials as a socially responsible company and improving its menu offerings in 2010. The company has a long list of breakfast offers, including pancakes and syrup, bagels, bacon, sausage and Oatso Simple porridge. Its latest menu offering includes wraps” (n. pag.).

McDonald’s long history of operations begins in 1948 in San Bernadino, California, USA (Walkup, 2007).

McDonald’s has been credited with the creation of the fast food industry as we now know it; the company “created its own supply chain, especially for its major ingredients, because of its enormous needs,” and has trail blazed a number of areas which QSR industries continue to thrive in today (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Walkup, 2007).

The company spearheaded much of the growth experienced in the QSR sector, and the company “gradually made changes that were innovations in the industry.

For instance, it made its first public stock offering in 1965, developed the Big Mac in 1967, opened its first McDonald’s Playland in 1971, debuted in Hong Kong in 1975, added breakfast in 1977, launched its first national Happy Meal promotion in 1979 and added Chicken McNuggets in 1983” (Walkup, 2007, p. 27)

From a brand perspective, McDonald’s is one of the oldest and also the most robust brands on the planet, one that seems impervious to controversy and criticism. “For many people, McDonald’s represents the epitome of corporate globalization. Yet McDonald’s did not invent globalization. Where McDonald’s has been successful has been in making an already strong brand even stronger through the globalization process.

There are many businesses which would describe themselves as global or multinational. But truly global consumer brands are few and far between…

Truly borderless companies combine transferable management practices and culture with a set of brand attributes which are recognized by customers wherever the company does business” (Technology Strategies, 1996, p. 19). In 2010, the McDonald’s corporation earned $1,908.90 million in sales and employed 37,644 people in the U.K. (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Pizza UK and IRL PLC (DOM) operates the Domino’s Pizza franchise in the U.K. as well as the Republic of Ireland (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010). The first Domino’s Pizza opened in London in 1999, and the company earns $306.40 million in sales annually (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

Similar to the success of Subway, the Domino’s Pizza franchise model remains a sound growth engine for the brand. As Kühn (2009) notes, “the Domino’s and Subway franchise model has allowed them to be pretty recession proof, and many individual businessmen have found them to be sturdy investments” (n. pag.).

Thomas and James Monaghan created the Domino’s Pizza Inc. company in 1960; the company went public in 2004, and has been traded on the NYSE ever since (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010). According to the Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles (2010), “Domino’s Pizza has been one of the top pizza delivery companies in the United States, selling over 1 million pizzas a day.

In addition to its pizza delivery business, Domino’s Pizza maintains and operates a network of company-owned and franchise-owned stores. The company operates within three business segments: domestic stores, domestic supply chain and international” (n. pag.).

The company’s international division oversees the 3,726 franchise stores that operate outside of the U.S., including the London stores (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, the Domino’s Pizza menu contains standard Italian American fare such as pizza, and pasta; specialty entrees and sides include “pasta bread bowls…oven-baked sandwiches…chicken side dishes, breadsticks and salads, as well as beverages and desserts” (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

According to IBIS World (2011), the “average revenue per each Domino’s store was…about £670,000 in 2009, although 68 stores achieved annual revenue in excess of £1.0 million” (n. pag.) According to Kühn (2009), Domino’s Pizza increased its earnings portfolio “by a whopping 50 percent” in 2009 in the U.K. (n. pag.).

YUM! Brands

YUM! Brands Inc. earns $11,343.00 million in sales annually and employs 378, 000 people in the U.K. The YUM! Brands moniker represents the umbrella term for a group of quick service restaurants that the company operates worldwide, including the “KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W All-American Food Restaurants brands” (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010, n. pag.).

According to Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles (2010), YUM! Brands operates in a host of quick service categories, including “chicken, pizza, Mexican-style food, and quick-service seafood categories” (n. pag.). In December 2009, YUM! Brands officially owned and operated over 37,000 restaurants in 110 nations and territories worldwide (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010).

YUM! Brands, Inc. was founded in 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky, USA; at that time, the company was known as TRICON Global Restaurants, Inc. (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010). The company rebranded to YUM! Brands in May of 2002; it is now traded on the NYSE. YUM! Brands aggressively expands in both the European and Asian markets (Kühn, 2010).

In June of 2010, the company relaunched Taco Bell in the U.K., following a failed attempt 30 years ago. As Kühn (2010) explains, YUM! Brands “first tried to establish Taco Bell in the UK in the late 1980s when it had three sites in London and one in Birmingham. However, the restaurants were closed by the mid-1990s” (n.pag.).

Taco Bell is YUM! Brands’ most successful firm in the United States; the company believes there is a market for Mexican food in the U.K. as well (Kühn, 2010). In early 2011, YUM!

Brands announced that it would be selling off two of its businesses – Long John Silver’s, a quick service seafood chain, and A&W brands, a burger chain, in order to concentrate on its core money makers – KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Kühn, 2010).

Eat Ltd

Privately owned Eat Ltd. was founded in 1996 in London by Faith MacArthur and Niall MacArthur and has grown to include 100 stores as of 2011 (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Kühn, 2009). The company’s annual sales surpassed $2,234.40 million pounds in 2010 and the company employs 1,512 people in London (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Kühn, 2009).

Eat Ltd. specializes in sandwiches, soups, baked goods, salads, wraps, sushi, and breakfast offerings such as porridge and muffins, and markets its products as “healthy fast food” (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; Kühn, 2009).

Kühn (2009) reported that Eat Ltd. boosted its portfolio earnings by 36.4 percent in 2009, and attributes the continued success of the chain to the fact that “Britons are also shunning posh business lunches and choosing instead to head to Eat or Prêt a Manger for a sandwich” (n. pag.).

Prêt a Manger

Prêt a Manger is a sandwich shop based in London. Founders Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham established the chain in 1986 in London and in 2010, the company earned $453.80 million pounds in revenue (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; The Telegraph, 2008).

The founders sold Prêt a Manger in 2008 for 350 million pounds to Bridgepoint, a private equity company based in the UK, and Goldman Sachs in the United States (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; The Telegraph, 2008).

Prêt a Manger specializes in freshly made sandwiches, soups, and sushi (Gale Cengage Learning Company Profiles, 2010; The Telegraph, 2008). It also operates a service that distributes all of the food that it does not sell to the homeless individuals living in London (The Telegraph, 2008). The sandwich chain boosted its earnings portfolio by 29.7 percent in 2009 (Kühn, 2009).

Impact of the Recession

Overall, household expenditure on eating out has decreased by 13.2 percent in the U.K. since 2006 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011). Since 2007, according to research compiled by IBIS World (2011) and Euromonitor International (2010), two market research firms located in London, the U.K. QSR industry has been in decline.

In the years between 2007 and 2011, IBIS World (2011) documented a decline in QSR industry revenue. The decline in QSR revenue has been attributed to “subdued growth in demand and fierce price-based competition on menu items between industry operators.

The recent global economic downturn has caused falls in real household disposable income, particularly as the unemployment rate remains at or above 8.0 percent” (IBIS World, 2011, n. pag).

According to IBIS World (2011), QSR industry revenue fell at a rate of 2.9 percent annually between the years 2007 and 2011, to a projected total of 4.8 billion pounds in the year 2012.

Forecasters anticipate that the QSR industry revenue will grow very little in 2011 in the U.K. – only 0.1 percent (IBIS World, 2011). Forecasters characterize the flat line growth as normal, “given the prevailing economic uncertainty and low consumer sentiment” in the U.K. (IBIS World, 2011, n. pag.)

QSR operators noted a shift in consumer behaviour in the U.K. as a result of the recession (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011; Euromonitor International, 2010; IBIS World, 2011). Accordingly, market researchers describe a “polarisation within fast food, with some operators continuing to offer less expensive meals while others provide healthier food menus” (Euromonitor International, 2010, n. pag.).

The multinational franchise and chain stores such as McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, YUM! Brands, and Subway conduct business at the far end of the fast food offerings spectrum, while a significant number of smaller, locally owned and operated outfits operate at the other end.

Thus, as IBIS World (2011) notes, while large franchise stores make up a smaller share of the QSR industry firms – about 20 percent – they nonetheless “account for about 60 percent of industry revenue and 66 percent of total employment.

These establishments typically have a greater number of staff per establishment, with Domino’s averaging about 33 people per location in its UK operations, and each franchisor usually owns about 4.5 stores” (n. pag.). In 2010, the sale of fast food items by QSR firms London increased by 2 percent in “current value terms” (Euromonitor International, 2010, n. pag.; Woods, 2011).

Competition within the sector has not diminished as a result of the recession (Consumers International, 2009; Consumer Reports, 2011; Euromonitor International, 2010; IBIS World, 2011). Rather, the nature of competition between the brands has changed.

As a growing number of fresh and healthy fast food chain outfits such as Eat Ltd., Prêt A Manger, and additional Subway franchises come into the London QSR market, fast food stalwarts such as McDonald’s offer more health conscious meals while simultaneously marketing value meals aggressively (Euromonitor International, 2010; IBIS World, 2011).

As Euromonitor International (2010) notes, “McDonald’s continued to offer a £1.99 meal while other players, such as Prêt a Manger and Eat Ltd., offered healthier calorie marked meals” (n. pag.).

In the period coming out of the recession, 2011 and 2012, Euromonitor International (2010) anticipates that the sales of fast food items will “continue to grow…by attracting both lunch time and breakfast crowds, [although] over the forecast period, fast food sales are expected to decline slightly in constant value terms” (n. pag.).

Economic Climate in the U.K.

The study revealed multiple discrepancies between the documents analysed in terms of consumer behaviour in the QSR sector, specifically in light of the recession. These discrepancies will be discussed in detail in the literature review section of the paper.

In the U.K., the measure of inflation – the Retail Price Index, or RPI – increased by 8.4 percent between the years 2006 and 2008, and then decreased by 0.5 percent between the years 2008 and 2009 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011).

Since 2006, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011) points to an overall increase in prices of 7.9 percent. In the average U.K. consumer household, changes in spending behaviour since 2006 have been noted as follows:

  • “household spending on food and drink up by 2.1%;
  • eating out spending down by 8.9%;
  • all alcoholic drinks spending down by 11.9%;
  • spend on alcoholic drinks bought outside the home down by 19.5%” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 10).

In terms of regions within the U.K., disparities exist in terms of patronage to fast food and fast casual dining establishments. In London, the overall percentage of expenditure on restaurants and bars was the highest of all regions in the country at 35 percent (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011).

As the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011) notes, the overall percentage of expenditure on restaurants and bars is “lowest in the West Midlands at 28 percent. In England as a whole, people spent 31 percent of all the money they spent on food and drink on eating out purchases.

The percentage of spending on alcoholic drinks outside the household is highest in London at 59 percent and lowest in the South East at 50 percent” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 39).

While London consumers still comprise the largest market for fast food chains, the QSR customers are nonetheless responding to the recession by reducing the amount of discretionary income that they spend on restaurants and bars, “including reducing their total expenditure on take-away and fast foods” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 9).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011) published its revised report Family Food 2009 in May of 2011 and noted the following significant behavioural changes in the average U.K. consumer’s discretionary spending – including those residing in London:

The amount of food eaten out is on a long term downward trend. Measured in grams, the amount of eating out was 15 percent lower in 2009 than in 2006.

In terms of money spent in actual prices…not adjusted for inflation…it was 1.8 percent lower at £11.33 per person per week for all food and alcoholic drinks. Food and non-alcoholic drinks spending was £8.26. There are downward trends in purchases of most categories of eating out food and drink since 2006.

The most significant reductions in amounts bought include confectionery down 20.4 percent, alcoholic drinks down 20.5 percent, crisps, nuts and snacks down 18.1 percent and soft drinks…including milk drinks…down 17.5 percent. There are no categories with a significant upward trend since 2006 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 9)

In order to put the impact of the recession on consumer spending in perspective, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011) offered the following insight: “in 1975 households spent the equivalent of £25.20 on household food and drink.

This is not directly comparable with the 2009 figure of £23.86 as it does not include spending on confectionery and soft drinks, and excludes Northern Ireland households.

It does show that spending in real terms is lower in 2009 than in 1975” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 9).

These findings remain significant in terms of the QSR industry post-recession. What this means to the QSR brands in London is that consumers in London are spending less, thus competition between fast food chains will likely continue to be aggressive, as firms must compete for a smaller share of cash-strapped consumers’ discretionary income.

Several events conspired to create the situation that faced the average U.K. fast food consumer in London between the years 2009 and 2011. The recession created six quarters of flat growth, from which the U.K. emerged officially, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011), in the year 2009.

Food prices rose in general during that period also, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011), due to “commodity price rises, fuel price rises and the weakening of sterling against the euro” (p. 9). Once the U.K. economy officially transitioned out of the 2009 recession, the last quarter of 2009 saw an increase in the pressure on discretionary spend.

As the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2011) notes, “the relative affordability of food can be monitored by the share of total household spending that goes on food purchases. In 2009, on average food and non-alcoholic drink accounted for 11.5 percent of all household spending.

The percentage of all household spending that goes on food and drink has been increasing since 2005 and 2006, when it was 10.2 percent. This indicates that food is now exerting greater pressure on the household budget” (p. 9).

As a rule, consumers in the U.K. have adjusted their spending behaviour since 2009 “by trading down to cheaper products, but not by buying significantly less.

Food groups where the reduction is due to a large drop in quantities purchased are bread, flour, fresh fruit and processed fruit and fruit products…Purchases of alcoholic drinks for household supplies decreased in 2008 but in 2009 increased 12.9 percent to return to 2007 levels” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011, p. 9).

Another area that affects the bottom line of London’s QSR brands is consumer confidence. According to Ryan (2011) “a gauge of Britons’ assessment of their present situation fell 3 points to 18…[while] an index of shoppers’ views on whether it’s a good time to make a major purchase, such as a house or car, dropped 2 points to 75.

Data…showed unemployment jumped in the third quarter as the number of young people looking for work climbed above 1 million for the first time in at least 19 years” (n. pag).

Grim outlooks on the job front have persisted into 2011 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011; Ryan, 2011). In the fall of 2011, the number of unemployment claims increased from “5,300 to 1.6 million” (Ryan, 2011, n.pag). Similarly, the rate of inflation in the fall of 2011 sat at 5 percent (Ryan, 2011).

While QSR firms have intensified the marketing of value meals, according to Ryan (2011), “pressures on household budgets have also intensified, with underlying wage growth running at less than half the rate of inflation and the jobs market showing renewed signs of weakness” (n. pag).

That said, Ryan (2011) notes further discrepancies in consumer spending behaviour, as sales continued to bring in shoppers in 2011, despite the sluggish economy, gloomy forecasts, and high unemployment rates.

However, as Ryan (2011) cautions, although “sales defied forecasts as shops lured cash-strapped consumers with discounts, the gains may not last, as Britons struggle to shake off strains from labour market slack, above target inflation and the biggest fiscal squeeze since World War II.

The data suggest that demand on the high street has continued to grow, despite the current intensity of the fiscal and inflation squeezes on consumers…overall real consumer spending is likely to continue to fall sharply for some time to come” (n. pag).

The continued economic instability witnessed in London will more than likely exaggerate the competition amongst the QSR chains and the locally owned and operated fast food establishments. As Euromonitor International (2010) notes, QSR firms “initially benefited from increasingly busy consumers having less to spend eating out.

But other types of food service outlets are also identifying the reasons for more consumers visiting fast food units, and they are looking to counter with price discounting and promotions” (n. pag.). This increased competition will likely create a decrease in the constant value sales of the QSR sector over the course of 2012 (Euromonitor International, 2010).

The researcher set out to determine the impact of these combined economic factors, as well as the continued instability of the euro and the European debt crisis, on QSR brands in London.

Discussion

In recent years, an increased interest in the development and management of brand equity as one of the principal drivers of a QSR chain’s financial success has become apparent in the brand management literature. Successful brand management occurs when QSR firms comprehend the value of brand equity and successfully leverage it to produce optimal operational and financial performance.

Brand management in the QSR industry entails managing an ongoing relationship with the consumer; in light of the recession in the U.K., additional pressure to maintain that relationship now exists, as well as additional competition for less discretionary income.

This study analysed the work of other researchers, as well as global brand surveys and statistical documents between the years of 2009 and 2011, and examined them in light of the research questions.

The goal of the research and investigation of these documents was to determine what other researchers had learned about the consumer behaviour of QSR customers in London, and to ascertain the impact of the recession on these buying choices.

Studies and surveys that examined the impact of brand name, brand equity, brand recognition, brand loyalty, brand awareness and brand engagement on consumer choices were chosen, as were documents that noted the increase or decrease of brand value and consumer response to promotional campaigns such as value meals.

The literature review also contains several studies that detailed the impact of fast food on health, particularly as obesity rates in the U.K. have been climbing in recent years, which the healthy food lobby attributes to increased consumption of high calorie fast food meals.

Finally, the literature review looks at studies that attempt to understand the London based consumer outlook on American brands, and whether or not this has an impact on their buying behavior when making food choices.

As a rule, the study determined that brand awareness and brand equity remained the two most significant factors that affected fast food customers in London as they made their food choices. Brand awareness typically leads time-starved consumers to choose a recognizable brand such as McDonald’s or Subway over an unrecognized or lesser known brand in the same product category.

An additional factor was cost: low cost meals and value meals boosted sales for many firms. However, lower priced value meals in competing firms did not necessarily draw consumers away from the brand they had engaged with – this demonstrated brand equity in action.

The study determined that low price affects some consumer decisions; however, on its own the literature examined did not support the idea that a lower priced meal at a competitor firm was enough to draw the brand engaged consumer away from his or her brand of choice. Thus while fast food customers in London might compare their regular restaurant with its competitive firms, a price war will not necessarily win their business.

Fast food firms do acquire competitive advantage as a result of their brand name, as brand awareness creates the secure value proposition that many consumers in the midst of the recession sought.

The marketing and promotion campaigns that QSR fast food firms undertook during the period examined did display some success at attracting customers from competitive brands, particularly in the case of the McDonald’s McCafe co-branding strategy and the Subway $5 Footlong Promotion.

Brand name and brand engagement remain two of the most valuable assets a QSR firm can have in the competitive QSR landscape.

For many QSR firms, the power of the brand name and the strength of what the brand means to consumers will tip the balance in favour of the brand over its competitors, even in a cash-strapped consumer environment. Thus, effective brand management adds value to the firm and strengthens its competitive edge.

While simply speaking a brand is the name or logo associated with a particular product, brand management actually refers to the consumer experience of the product, and as a result requires time to develop.

As Holt (2004) explains, “although a product has a name, a trademarked logo, unique packaging, and perhaps other unique design features…the brand does not yet truly exist. Names, logos, and designs are the material markers of the brand.

Because the product does not yet have a history, however, these markers are empty. They are devoid of meaning….The difference is that these markers have been filled customer experiences…Over time, ideas about the product accumulate and fill the brand markers with meaning. A brand is formed” (p. 3).

The vast majority of successful QSR chains contain familiar brand attributes that remain constant through each incarnation of the brand and through all of its franchisees. Examples include the familiar yellow décor of the inside of a Subway restaurant, the McDonald’s Happy Meal, and the blue uniforms that all Domino’s Pizza employees the world over wear.

The visual markers of the brand support the emotional and psychological experience that the consumer has with the brand; these markers also underpin the consumer’s investment in the brand. In the highly competitive QSR industry, a powerful brand remains “critical to the success of [fast] food service firms because strong brands often provide the primary points of differentiation between various competitors.

Strong brands aid customers in better visualizing and understanding intangible products and services. Furthermore, they reduce customers’ perceived monetary, social, or safety risks in buying services, which are difficult to evaluate before purchase” (Kim and Kim, 2004, p. 116).

Robust brands that can withstand market hills and valleys tend to be created when the company goes after individuality in executing and broadcasting the value proposition it has to offer consumers (Holt, 2004; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004).

Effective brands communicate their uniqueness, establish emotional bonds with their customers, continually characterize, reiterate, and profit from the consumer’s elevated perception of the QSR chain’s performance, and promote buy-in from employees (Holt, 2004; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004).

In the QSR arena, a robust brand with powerful and resilient brand equity supplies the company with several important benefits (Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Riezebos et al., 2003; Verma, 2009).

These include enhanced consumer loyalty, diminished susceptibility to the shocks of the market and of competitor marketing tactics, increased profits, a higher likelihood of a positive consumer reaction to price increases, greater effectiveness in promotional communications, and a greater likelihood that the brand will extend into other categories (Holt, 2004; Keller, 2001; Keller, 1993; Kim and Kim, 2004).

As Kim and Kim (2004) note, brand effectiveness and extension opportunities remain key goals for QSR brands. Like other brands, QSR chains seek to develop powerhouse brands, yet the nature of the QSR chain industry is such that the achievement of that goal can be challenging, and price wars have proven ineffective and damaging to the industry as a whole. As Kim and Kim (2004) explain:

Given that many QSR chains’ products and services are not inherently differentiated and the channels of distribution are not distinctive, customers often have only price and brand equity to differentiate one brand from its competitors. In the absence of strong brands, the only remaining ongoing marketing mechanism is price manipulations, usually in the form of discounting.

Indeed, the QSR industry has heavily relied on price promotions as an important marketing activity. That emphasis has resulted in continual price wars that have damaged customer loyalty and reduced revenue (p. 116).

The study endeavoured to understand the influence that brand awareness, brand equity, brand attitudes and brand engagement has upon consumers in London when making food choices, specifically in the QSR sector.

This study revealed that while cost certainly plays a role in that decision, particularly in recent years during the U.K.’s economic downturn, brand engagement continues to exert a powerful effect on London QSR consumers. The decision to buy repeatedly from a particular QSR brand and not another stems from a complex emotional and psychological relationship that successful QSR firms cultivate over many years with their customers.

Summary

Chapter Four contains the primary and secondary research and findings. This chapter contains three subsections: a brief overview of the top six fast food restaurant chains in London, the impact of the 2008-2009 recessions on the fast food industry in London, and the economic climate that the U.K. has faced since the 2008-2009 recession, particularly in light of the struggling euro and the European debt crisis.

Conclusions

The results of this research supported the researcher’s hypothesis that evidence of brand allegiance would be available through close analysis of both the primary research and the secondary research compiled for the study.

The study participants overwhelmingly demonstrated a preference for their particular fast food brand of choice; the participants also showed a predilection for large global brands such as Subway and McDonald’s, and these preferences demonstrated a significant impact on their purchasing decisions.

The large majority of fast food consumers will demonstrate varying perceptions of global brands, from indifference to full brand engagement.

The results of this study support the findings of other studies that suggest that in the product category of fast foods, global brands appear to possess some supplementary psychological and emotional associations exclusive to the brand, associations which local or unrecognized brands do not demonstrate.

The phenomenon of brand loyalty evidence in this study and similar studies demonstrates the competitive advantage that fast food firms with robust brand equity enjoy, even during one of the worst economic downturns to hit the globe since the Second World War.

Thus, this has significant contributions to brand image and knowledge, and it enhances brand value which is likely to affect consumers’ brand selection and loyalty behavior

One of the most significant features of this study that the researcher discovered via the consumer survey was the prevalence of consumer perception that global brands remain of higher quality than local brands or unknown brands.

A vast majority of the participants of the fast food consumer survey agreed that there is a significant increase in the quality of the fast food products produced by global brands such as Subway and McDonald’s.

The reasons for this perception, as given by the respondents, were a nearly unilateral belief that the food is better at a global brand fast food restaurant than the same food at an unrecognized fast food restaurant, and the belief that the quality of the customer service at global brand fast food restaurants is superior to that of unrecognized or local fast food restaurant brands.

These sentiments, as shared with the researcher through the respondents, echoes the core definitions of brand equity. The results clearly demonstrate brand loyalty, even in the face of higher prices, as nearly half of all the respondents in all age groups answered yes to the question would you be willing to spend more for a branded fast food product?

Jacoby and Chesnut (1978) defined brand loyalty as “the biased behavioral response expressed over time, by some decision making unit with respect to one or more alternative brands which is a function of psychological processes” (p. 36).

Essentially, a consumer who has become attached to a certain brand will choose the brand above competitors for reasons other than economic ones – typically as a response to an emotional or psychological need that the brand name fulfils.

In the case of the fast food consumer who has engaged with a particular brand, he or she will not accept substitutes within the same category, regardless of promotions, lower cost, availability, or even as this study demonstrates, armed with the knowledge of the caloric load that his or her fast food meal of choice contains.

Thus, a brand loyal fast food patron will demonstrate a positive attitude towards his or her brand of choice and this preference will affect the consumer’s purchase decision process.

The brand loyal consumer will choose a given fast food brand over a competitor brand, and the allegiance and favouritism shown toward this brand in preference over other brands will have an indefinite quality.

As such, the brand loyal patron may remain loyal to his or fast food brand for the duration of his or her life and demonstrate fundamental fidelity to that brand over the long term (Apaydin, 2011; Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Jacoby and Chesnut, 1978; Keller, 1993; Keller, 2001; Lee, 2011).

The above factors must be present in the consumer purchasing decision making process in order for actual brand loyalty to exist. The definition put forth by Jacoby and Chesnut (1978) underscores the influence that the consumer’s attachment to his or her fast food brand of choice will exact on his or her purchasing decisions and fast food restaurant choices.

Examining global brand loyalty and global brand buying behaviour and consumer purchasing decision processes needs to be understood in terms of the “principle of the covariance of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty” (Apaydin, 2011, p. 28).

In addition, brand engagement, brand loyalty and brand attachment contain both behavioural and affective elements that research must factor in to any interpretation of results (Apaydin, 2011).

Brand loyalty per se, can withstand economic threats to its existence, as evidenced by the results of this study, as well as numerous others (Apaydin, 2011; Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Jacoby and Chesnut, 1978; Keller, 1993; Keller, 2001; Lee, 2011).

In the fast food restaurant industry, brands and brand names are increasingly seen as providing a key insight into differentiation, as well as a distinct competitive advantage in the market place for fast food firms, an advantage that can be leveraged and maintained over many years and even decades (Apaydin, 2011; Keller, 2001; Lee, 2011).

A number of studies, several of which appeared in the literature review of this research, demonstrate the power of brand equity and brand loyalty as an influence on the consumer purchasing decision process.

In the fast food restaurant industry, brand equity and brand loyalty affects consumer purchasing decisions in multiple areas including price, choice of menu, location, and the variable health concerns represented by a meal from a fast food brand of choice versus a local or unknown competitor fast food brand.

The trend of globalization which began in the mid-1980s has been responsible for the unprecedented growth of a number of the fast food chains featured in this study, most notably McDonald’s, YUM! Brands, Domino’s Pizza, and Subway. The impact of globalization exacts unparalleled changes on the methods that major brands employ in their marketing campaigns and in the marketing of their consumer fast food products.

A number of large global brands that began in Western and developed nations have been reached unprecedented numbers of customers as a result of the concomitant developments in technology, media and consumer mobility (Lee, 2011). As a result of globalisation, global fast food brands such as McDonald’s, Subway and Domino’s Pizza have effectively created a homogenous global culture rooted in consumerism.

This culture expands across borders and across languages and gives rise to a global consumer society firmly oriented toward global brands (Apaydin, 2011; Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Lee, 2011; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002).

A number of the fast food firms featured in this study originate in developed countries such as the United States.

These firms have developed a globally integrated marketing strategy; their brand name enjoys global brand recognition, and attracts brand ambassadors from every corner of the globe (Apaydin, 2011; Austin, Mattila and Siguaw, 1999; Lee, 2011; Kim and Kim, 2004; Parsa and Kwansa, 2002). A robust brand name and strong brand equity allows fast food firms to benefit from a number of advantages. As Lee (2011) notes:

Basic scale economies of longer production series of identical packaging, one-brand communication spillovers, and worldwide media purchases mean lower costs and increased productivity. Therefore…it is vital to explore and understand the behaviors of consumers towards global brands and their perception of global brands. To be able to create loyal global consumers, gaining an insight of global consumer behavior is necessary (p. 26).

The researcher found significant differences to exist between the surveys reviewed as part of the secondary data and the survey conducted as part of the primary data.

The reason for this may lie in the fact that many of the surveys reviewed for the secondary data component took place during the final days of the recession in 2009 and during the recovery period in 2010, while the survey conducted for the primary research component took place in 2011, a time when economists predict that the United Kingdom is beginning to emerge from the global downturn of 2008 and 2009.

Economists anticipate the growth rate to increase in the year 2012. According to Flanders (2011), while the economic news is anything but rosy, the figures are beginning to demonstrate upward momentum when compared to the recession:

The Office for National Statistics…revised up our quarterly growth rate in the three months to September by exactly that amount. Pedants will point out that the figure for the previous quarter was revised down, by 0.1% – meaning we are pretty much exactly where we thought we were.

And the current account deficit hit a record £15.2bn, or an alarming 4% of GDP. However, we know these trade figures jump about a lot from quarter to quarter. The average current account gap for the first three quarters – at 2.7% of GDP – is below the 3.1% of GDP for the same period in 2010 (n.p.).

Research Questions

  1. What do the fast food customers in London think of fast food restaurants, and how important is a brand name to them when making food choices?
  2. Do fast food customers in London really care about brand name, or do they select it due to the low price?
  3. How do the fast food customers in London compare their regular restaurant with its competitive firms?
  4. Do fast food firms acquire any form of a competitive advantage due to their brand name?
  5. To what extent do marketing and promotion campaigns attract people from competitive brands?

The researcher analysed the results from the primary research consumer survey as well as the documents analysed in the secondary component of the research in order to provide answers to the study’s guiding parameters.

Based on these interpretations, the researchers concluded that fast food customers in London do think of fast food restaurants when making food choices, and the brand name of the fast food restaurant does remain an important influencing factor on both their choice of restaurant, their food choices, and their purchasing behaviour.

While fast food customers in London did appear to be affected by the global economic downturn, their loyalty to their brand name fast food restaurant did not waver; rather, the respondents overwhelmingly agreed that they would spend more money in order to remain loyal to the fast food brand name to which they had become attached.

Low price did not appear to be a significant enough incentive to draw brand loyal patrons away to a fast food competitor. In addition the fast food customers in London do not appear to compare their regular restaurant with its competitive firms; rather, the marketing and promotion efforts of competitive brands fall largely short of their goals to poach brand loyal patrons.

Lastly, the results of the consumer survey indicate that fast food firms acquire an absolute rock solid form of competitive advantage due to the power of their brand name and the strength of their brand equity.

The researcher concluded that brand equity serves as a guarantee of patronage and a major source of revenue for the global fast food brand names featured in this study, including Subway, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and YUM! Brands.

Recommendations for Further Research

Based on the researcher’s experience while conducting this research study into the effect of brand names on consumer purchase decision making in the fast food product category in London, a few recommendations came to light. The main recommendation suggested would be to conduct the same study using a significantly larger sample of participants.

While the sample should remain random, future researchers may also wish to include details about the sample that may influence both brand loyalty and purchasing behaviour in addition to the age of the respondents, such as gender, socio-economic status, country of origin, profession, education, religion, and race.

Summary

Chapter Five contains the study conclusions reached by the researcher. This chapter also contains a reiteration of the research questions in light of the primary and secondary data. This chapter also offers some recommendations for future research.

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IvyPanda. "How Do Brand Names Affect Customer Decision Making Process in Selecting Fast Food Restaurants in London?" April 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-do-brand-names-affect-customer-decision-making-process-in-selecting-fast-food-restaurants-in-london/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "How Do Brand Names Affect Customer Decision Making Process in Selecting Fast Food Restaurants in London?" April 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-do-brand-names-affect-customer-decision-making-process-in-selecting-fast-food-restaurants-in-london/.

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