Several big names in the business have stopped playing nice with one another, dropping their feigned indifference for pointed jibes sinking nearly to the level of "your momma" jokes. The insult exchanges may be good theater for the uninvolved, but investors, employees and management presumably aren’t happy about the mud slinging. Here are some of the chops and counter putdowns flying back and forth.
Dunkin’ to Starbucks: ‘You suck—time’
The doughnut specialist didn’t cite the big beanery by name, but the target of a recent jab was obvious. “Guests want to use Dunkin' as a place to take five minutes, not 50 minutes,” Dunkin’ U.S. President Dave Hoffman said in explaining the difference between his charge and one particular competitor. “As we jokingly say around here, there are other coffee houses where you go to write your screenplay.
“That’s not us,” Hoffman continued. “It's not who our customers want us to be. Our goal is to be the most beloved beverage-led to-go brand in the country.”
Buffalo Wild Wings to Applebee’s: ‘You suck, we won’t’
The wings chain took an indirect swipe at its rival in the midst of an ongoing slap fight with a notoriously mettlesome shareholder. The insult’s actual target, Marcato Capital Management, is trying to pack BWW’s board with sympathizers in hopes of getting the franchisor to sell its company stores. One of BWW’s recent responses was pointing out how awfully Applebee’s has performed while refranchising virtually all of its stores. “In each of the last two quarters, Applebee's has had same-store sales declines of more than 7%!” BWW noted with suspected glee.
“We do not want Buffalo Wild Wings to be the next Applebee's,” executives told investors point-blank.
Chipotle to other chains: ‘We’re real, you’re fake’
A rich source of trash talk in recent weeks has been chains’ scramble to serve less processed and additive-laced fare. No fewer than three big brands are claiming they’re winning that race, and they’re not hesitant to disparage any other run for the gold.
The loudest claimant may well be Chipotle, which hasn’t had much else to crow about in the last 18 months or so. Though it doesn’t disparage other clean-label aspirants by name, the timing makes clear who its target is: Panera. “No other national restaurant brand is as fully committed to making better food made from whole unprocessed ingredients accessible to everyone,” Chipotle CEO Steve Ells asserted in his last call with investment analysts.
During the first quarter, “We completed a multiyear journey to remove additives from our tortillas,” a major stumbling block, Ells explained. “Chipotle is now the only national restaurant brand to use no added colors, flavors or preservatives in any of the ingredients used to prepare our food.”
The assertions follow Chipotle’s rollout of an online game about six weeks ago, dubbed "Spot the Imposter," which invites players to highlight where other restaurant chains may be stretching the truth about the purity of their ingredients. Earlier, Ells specifically bashed McDonald’s for announcing plans to strip artificial stuff out of the Chicken McNugget, saying a “clean” version is just not real.
Papa John’s, meanwhile, has claimed it has the cleanest menu—but solely among national pizza chains.
Wendy’s to McDonald’s: ‘Didn’t feel a thing’
Big Mac’s switch to fresh beef for Quarter Pounders in Dallas, Texas, test stores was a nonevent for Wendy’s units in the area, Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor sniffed during his last conference with analysts. If anything, the incursion on a key point of difference for Wendy’s might have helped the smaller brand, he said. “It does create some credibility to what we've been saying for almost 48 years,” Penegor said.
“What we really want to do is continue to scream from the rooftops our unique brand positioning around fresh,” he noted.