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    Brand love and guilty pleasures: McDonald's shows we turn to comfort food in a crisis

    McDonald’s is once again the UK’s Most Loved Brand, for an impressive 4th year in a row. In 2021, Savanta analyzed how the mighty chain achieved strong penetration growth during Covid-19 through convenience, speed of service, and fast deliveries even when its physical premises were shut.

    In 2022, facing a cost-of-living crisis, it appears UK consumers are turning to McDonald’s and other consistently accessible brands for comfort. According to our new study of 96,000 consumers, the UK’s top 10 most loved eating out brands are dominated by ‘guilty pleasures’. After Greggs in second spot comes Nando’s, ranked third overall. KFC is fifth; Kaspa’s Desserts sixth; Domino’s eighth; Subway ninth; Creams Café 10th.

    The UK’s love affair with Nando’s continues, with the chicken connoisseur rising two places in 2022. There’s a reason why a third of all Nando’s in the world are here on these shores. The British slang ‘cheeky Nando’s’ is in the Urban Dictionary and encapsulates the essence of a guilty pleasure. Initiatives such as 20% off for NHS workers and free chicken on exam results day can only help boost the brand love.

    Kaspa’s, a new entry into the top 100 this year, has claimed its spot in the top 10, jumping straight in at 6th place. Only a decade old, it was also a popular pandemic delivery option – voted the UK’s favorite dessert restaurant in 2020 (and 2019) by Deliveroo customers. Its retro diner-style setting with neon pink decor is distinctive, nostalgic, and no doubt very comforting to Kaspa’s customers.

    Only time will tell what the impact on guilty pleasure purchases will be now that large UK businesses must display calorie counts on their menus. Will this deter fast food fans?

    It doesn’t have to, based on lessons learned from the US. A similar law has been in place there since 2018, but according to a 2021 study, on average restaurants haven’t reduced calories in their classic dishes. Presumably, they have enjoyed continued success without needing to.

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    However, dishes introduced post-2018 had 25% fewer calories on average, at quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains in particular. Perhaps this points to the path ahead for some of the UK’s most loved eating out brands. Broader product ranges, with some lower calorie options, will give health-conscious guilty pleasure-seekers something they can enjoy, too. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

    Download Savanta’s report here for the full list of The UK’s Top 100 Most Loved Eating Out Brands, as well as insights on the future of the sector and how brands can stay relevant in the coming years.

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