Chipotle Voted America’s Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chain

Chipotle Voted America's Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chain

In the battle of the burritos, Chipotle takes the prize, according to a national study from Market Force, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence solutions. Chipotle was voted America’s favorite fast-casual Mexican chain in a restaurant industry survey of more than 7,600 consumers. Baja Fresh and Moe’s Southwest Grill were ranked No. 2 and No. 3. Taco Cabana, Qdoba, El Pollo Loco, Taco John’s and Taco Bell also made it onto the list of favorites.

The study, conducted in August, was designed to uncover which fast-casual Mexican chains consumers like most and why they prefer one over another. Market Force first calculated the favorites based on the total number of votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a more level view of the results. Of the 15 national and regional Mexican brands studied, Taco Bell garnered the most total votes across the country, due to its thousands of locations and rapid service. However, when viewed as a calculation of favorite votes per location, smaller chain Chipotle took the top spot. See Graph 1.

Graph 1: Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chains, Indexed by Door Count
Graph 1: Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chains, Indexed by Door Count

Denver-based Chipotle – known for its large burritos, assembly-line production and use of natural ingredients – has seen remarkable growth and gathered a loyal customer following over the past two decades. However, newer chains like Moe’s Southwest Grill are hoping to eat into that market share with aggressive plans to double its location count by 2015.

Are Chains More Popular Around Their Home Base?

Market Force also analyzed the results geographically to see which fast-casual Mexican chains are most popular in four regions of the country – the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

Chipotle was tops in the Northeast and Midwest, Baja Fresh in the South and Taco Cabana reigned supreme in the West. The location of the chains’ headquarters didn’t seem to significantly sway the votes. For instance, Irvine, Calif.-based Baja Fresh ranked fourth in the Western region, yet stole the first place spot in the South from Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill. See Graph 2.

Graph 2: Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chains by Region
Graph 2: Favorite Fast-Casual Mexican Chains by Region

Qdoba, Chipotle and Moe’s Outdo Others in Key Attributes

Market Force also asked consumers to rank the Mexican food chains based on various attributes such as food quality/taste, customer service, cleanliness, atmosphere and overall value. Chipotle and Qdoba tied for first place in food quality/taste and cleanliness, and also rated high for service. Moe’s Southwest Grill had a similarly strong showing, ranking first two critical categories – customer service and value. Meanwhile, Baja Fresh, which ranked No. 2 overall in the study, received high marks for food and cleanliness. El Pollo Loco performed well in the value category, scoring in second place, and was third in food quality/taste. See Graph 3.

Graph 3: Fast-Casual Mexican Chains Ranked by Attribute
Graph 3: Fast-Casual Mexican Chains Ranked by Attribute

“The fast-casual Mexican food phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, but our research suggests that it’s no longer enough to just offer the lowest prices or largest number of menu options,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “Instead, we’re seeing chains that are satisfying consumers’ taste for fresh ingredients, friendly service and a comfortable setting are emerging as the category leaders.”

Survey Demographics

The survey was conducted in August 2012 across the United States. The pool of 7,600 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with half reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 19 to over 65. Approximately one-quarter were men and 75% were women, and 73% reported working full or part time. Half of the respondents have children at home and more than two-thirds are married.

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Market Force is the leading global customer intelligence solutions company for multi-location businesses, including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged goods companies. With more than 125 years of combined industry experience, Market Force Information has pioneered the industry with a suite of customer intelligence solutions – from 600,000 field associates across North America and Europe who conduct mystery shopping, merchandising and retail auditing, to real customer surveys and proprietary decision-support tools. Its solutions provide a holistic view of the customer’s on-site experience and identify the actions required at the store level to increase customer loyalty and improve financial performance. Market Force was named one of Forbes’ America’s Most Promising Companies in 2011. For more information, visit