Yelp Report Measures Consumer Interest in Regional Brands Street Fight

Yelp Report Measures Consumer Interest in Regional Brands

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Cava, Scooter’s Coffee, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Habit Burger Grill, and Wawa are all regional retail brands that have higher consumer interest in some parts of the country than in others. And they’re gaining traction in those markets. According to the first-ever Yelp Fastest Growing Brands report, these “challenger” brands, while not industry leaders, are disrupting their respective sectors.

Cava, a fast-casual Mediterranean eatery, showed a remarkable 54% increase from the year before last in consumer interest on Yelp, a social network site that posts crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses.

And lest you confuse Wawa with the sound a baby makes, know that this chain of gas-station convenience stores up and down the East Coast placed number five out of 50 on the consumer interest list, up 88% from 2022.

The data reflects some shifts in American eating behaviors, said Kadecia Ber, Advertising Trends Expert and Director of Enterprise Solutions at Yelp. Seventy percent of the brands on the list are challenger brands. “Because these businesses are by definition smaller, they’re able to move more nimbly than many established brands and adopt a test-and-learn mentality that helps them optimize toward growth,” she said.

Yelp’s data science team examined data around net new business openings, consumer-interest, and user-search trends to gauge each brand’s growth in those areas. Ber sat down with StreetFight to go deeper into the findings.

What impact does Yelp have on the growth of these or other brands?

Yelp is dedicated to helping brands grow both on and off our platform. Our audience consists of high-intent consumers who are ready to purchase, and businesses that advertise on Yelp or off platform. Using Yelp data can leverage these audiences to achieve their advertising goals. While some of the brands on the list are [our] advertisers, their advertising status had no bearing on their inclusion or ranking on this list. Advertising on Yelp helps to drive engagement, which in turn could contribute to the number of searches they receive or level of consumer interest they see. Consumer interest and searches are only a portion of the combined weighted ranking metric used in this report.

Is the Midwest over-represented in this report in its embrace of some of these brands?

The Midwest was represented by nine of the top 50 brands. Looking at the top five brands in the Midwest, three were founded there – Scooter’s Coffee, Rally House and Culver’s. These businesses reflect the values of Midwestern culture like family, hearty food, and tradition, like supporting local college sports teams.

What’s with the Gen Z trend of “little treats?” It seems weight-conscious Boomers would exhibit that behavior most.

Gen Z pioneered the idea of “treat culture”—small treats like a sweet or snack to boost their mood. It’s become popular on social video platforms to show off these little treats, whether they’re the beloved cinnamon square at Crumbl or a brand new Stanley cup. While Boomers have more disposable income, Gen Z seems more willing to treat themselves on a day-to-day basis as a way of not only elevating their spirits but also generating content for their social feeds.

Ace Hardware has been around since 1924. Why the sudden growth spurt for them?

Ace Hardware is seeing recent growth for a few reasons. Looking macroeconomically, with mortgage rates at a 20+ year high, Americans are increasingly looking to upgrade their existing spaces instead of moving to a larger home. This “golden handcuffs” phenomenon is leading them and the home-services pros they hire to frequent hardware retailers like Ace Hardware.

Personally, as a home repair DIYer, the small footprint of the stores is welcoming in comparison to the big box store. Ace offers more personalized service than the bigger chains, which is exactly what you want when you need when sourcing a tool or part for a home repair job. Ace Hardware also sports a unique co-op business model that makes it an attractive business for franchisees, which may have contributed to its standing on the list.

Overall, what can you say about what the data in the report reflects about the changing tastes and habits of American consumers?

There are several businesses on the list like Cava, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Playa Bowls that indicate U.S. consumers are becoming more health-conscious, looking to food options that promote their health and vitality. It’s not just about eating anymore – it’s about eating well and feeling good. These brands are about making healthy eating a part of who they are, and it’s resonating with folks who want to do better by their bodies.

We’re also seeing trends like the return of mall food courts, which is being driven primarily by the younger generations. Over 30% of the businesses on the list can be found in malls.

And let’s not forget about the power of social media. Brands that are killing it on social, like Cava, Raising Cane’s and Crumbl Cookies, have amassed significant followings of loyal customers that look forward to engaging with them.

And yet, brands with carb-loaded offerings have piqued interest in the Midwest (Wetzel’s Pretzels, up 67%; and Cinnabon, up 131%) and in the South (Marble Slab Creamery, up a whopping 423% in Mississippi). That brand has been around since 1983. 

A number of factors could have contributed to these increases in consumer interest. Marble Slab Creamery increased net new locations by 34% in Mississippi, which could have led to the 423% increase in consumer interest in the state. Along with opening new locations, brands could have increased their marketing presence within certain regions, or they could have introduced new food items that align with market trends, like Cinnabon’s new “secret menu.”

Kathleen Sampey