In a striking cultural signal of just how differently consumers are eating, Starbucks has leaped ahead of Burger King and Wendy’s to become the nation’s third-largest chain restaurant in domestic sales.
Starbucks now ranks behind only No. 1 McDonald’s and runner-up Subway, according to research firm Technomic’s just-released listing of America’s top 500 restaurant chains in total 2010 U.S. sales.
For decades, the nation’s top three restaurant chains were the burger and fries: McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. No longer. Two of 2010′s top three — Subway and Starbucks — don’t even sell burgers or fries.
Today, even as the coffee kingpin is expected to report stellar second-quarter earnings, it has got something else to crow about. “Starbucks keeps gaining and gaining,” says Ron Paul, president of Technomic. “Carrying a Starbucks cup in your hand says something about you as a person.”
One key to the recent success of Starbucks is an ongoing shift in how consumers define “healthy,” says Sandra Stark, vice president of food at Starbucks. People used to think low-calorie or low-fat meant healthy food, she says. More recently, she says, that’s evolved to food whose ingredients consumers understand and can pronounce. Two years ago, Starbucks was among the first chains to remove all artificial ingredients from its food.
Executives from Burger King and Wendy’s declined to comment.