Krispy Kreme Dethrones Chick-Fil-A as the Most Intimate Fast-Food Brand

MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Study, the largest study of brands based on emotions, recently released its 12th annual ranking, measuring the emotional bonds customers had with their favorite brands over the past year. For three years running, Chick-fil-A has taken the top spot in the fast food category. This year, a new victor emerged, and they brought hot donuts. Krispy Kreme ranked No. 1 in MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2022 Study, while Chick-fil-A barely cracked the top 10. 

The MBLM study uses in-depth emotional science to rate the degree of intimacy each brand elicits within its customer base, including the level of fulfillment, emotional connection, nostalgia and indulgence. The enhanced 2022 study “combines MBLM’s proven Brand Intimacy model with the power of AI and big data to analyze over 600 brands, assessing how consumers bond with the brands they use and love.”

This year, Krispy Kreme franchise received a score of 40.4 out of 50, ranking it 145th out of all brands and first in the fast food category, followed by Costa Coffee and Starbucks, respectively. The remaining brands in the top 10 for fast food are CinnabonOutback SteakhouseMcDonald’sChili’sChick-fil-ADunkin’, and KFC. Interestingly, out of the top five fast food brands, four of them (Krispy Kreme, Costa, Starbucks and Cinnabon) fall into the sweets/coffee chain sub-category. 

This may be a product of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on eating habits, the study suggests, with 47% of respondents in another survey indicating they were eating more sweets now than before the pandemic. “Indulgence, which centers on moments of gratification and pampering, is the fast food industry’s dominant archetype, followed by nostalgia,” the study shows. 

When it comes to consumer experience, Krispy Kreme nails both indulgence and nostalgia. The brand is known for its signature “hot light” — a red neon light that makes mouths water by signaling the arrival of fresh, hot donuts just out of the oven. Similarly, the brand leans into its retro, mid-century look and often reintroduces “throwback” donut flavors. 

Krispy Kreme

This nostalgic approach may be what sealed Krispy Kreme’s victory this year. According to the study, Chick-fil-A’s dominant archetype is identity, whereas Krispy Kreme’s is nostalgia. The study also theorizes that Chick-fil-A’s religious identity may be clashing with an increasingly secular American public. This year, Chick-fil-A had a Brand Intimacy Quotient score of 35.8, coming in eighth in the fast food industry and 221st in the overall study. 

Although consumer sentiment surrounding fast food had been on the upswing last year following the pandemic, it appears that it may be dwindling overall. MBLM found the fast food industry saw its Brand Intimacy Quotient score decrease this year, falling to 33.6, which is below the cross-industry average of 36.8. 

“Given how much people connect with their favorite meals, the fast food industry has a fairly poor showing in this year’s study. This may be reflective of the quick and often impersonal relationship consumers have with these brands,” Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM, said in a release. “Brands also may be finding it difficult to find the right balance between evolving with the latest food trends and preferences and staying true to their identities. We feel that if they can focus on the nurturing nature consumers have with food, and also on creating more personal connections, they will be able to build better emotional bonds.”  

And brand intimacy is no joke. Consistent with previous years, MBLM also found that top intimate brands outperformed Fortune 500 top brands across profit, revenue and stock performance. 

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