We took a look at fast food foot traffic for Taco Bell, Burger King, and Wendy's, comparing at the state and local level. Here's what we found.
When we last looked at Taco Bell it was in comparison to the brand’s direct competitor, Chipotle. In this post, we shift perspective to examine how Taco Bell does against competitors in the burger space: Burger King and Wendy’s.
The race for total foot traffic nationwide is closer than you may think, with perhaps less than 5% gap between the top performer, Taco Bell and #2 Wendy’s, with Burger King lagging another 10% behind. Based on historical Q1 data, we can expect each brand’s quarterly foot traffic to peak around the end of February.
Each brand controls sections of the national map but there are plenty of localized battlegrounds with high visitation rates and a tremendous number of smaller markets that may appeal to each brand as potential sites for new locations.
To find out where, we looked at visitation data from Q1 of 2021 and 2022 for each brand, with the objective of understanding how each controls different areas, and where the battles for market share will rage in 2023 and beyond.
Taco Bell controls 22 states total, including all of the west, most of the south up to the Mississippi, and three of the big states: California, Texas and Illinois, although there is meaningful competition in each state and several large markets. In Los Angeles, for example, Taco Bell’s market share drops to about 47% vs. ~55% on the state level. That slips further in the Bay Area with Burger King ultimately winning markets around SFO, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz.
In Texas, though the state goes to Taco Bell over Burger King by a margin of ~9%, individual markets are often hotly contested by each brand. Taco Bell wins narrowly in San Antonio, with ~36% of local market share vs Wendy’s 33% and BK’s 31%. Wendy’s breaks through to tie Taco Bell with 38% of the Dallas area’s visitation. In massive Harris County (Houston), BK flips the script with 45% of the market, pushing Taco Bell to #2 at 33%.
Taco Bell takes its third and final big state, Illinois, by the slightest of margins with ~35% of the market, compared to 34% and Burger King’s 31%. Despite this, it is Wendy’s that wins the dominant Chicago (Cook County) market, taking about 39% of the city’s foot traffic to Taco Bell’s 38%. The gap is a little wider in Wendy’s favor - about 41% to 31% - in the connected DuPage County market area.
Burger King records wins in 10 states, including the important New York market, despite losing the Bronx to Wendy’s and NYC proper to Taco Bell. Generally speaking, the farther away you get north and east of NYC, the more the playing field tilts towards Burger King, which is how the brand wins the state overall.
Burger King remains competitive through much of the Great Lakes region, recording wins or close heats in areas around Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia. The farther into the northeastern states one goes, the wider Burger King’s lead becomes, peaking at ~52% market share in Vermont, before giving way to Wendy’s down the Atlantic Coast and into the southeast.
Wendy’s controls 17 states on the national brand map, mostly along the east coast and into the southeast, including chunks of the Atlanta-area market, and the ‘big state’ of Florida, which Wendy’s wins by a margin of ~7% over Burger King.
Wendy’s wins outright in several significant markets here, including Brevard County (Palm Bay/Titusville), Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), and Duval County (Jacksonville). In Miami, it’s a tight race, but BK just edges Wendy’s out by a margin of about 37% of traffic to Wendy’s 35%. The market shares and rankings in Tampa Bay are similar to Miami.
In the end, Wendy’s claims the state title in Florida and much of the southeast by simply being the more available brand in mid-sized cities and smaller towns.
Of the three brands examined here, Taco Bell is the national traffic leader by a meaningful margin, but it is clear that Wendy’s and Burger King provide stiff competition for the QSR in many large urban markets.
Illinois and the Chicago area market provide a good microcosm of the typical battleground scenario -- a three way race with each brand contesting both the urban center and surrounding counties.
While Taco Bell has a slight overall lead here, the brand is second in Chicago itself, leaving a lot of urban visitation on the table. This is one big state that could swing in the next couple of years.
If you’d like to see county and city level views of this, or any of our other brand performance index posts, please contact one of our friendly location intelligence experts today.