America's Favorite Junk Food



Junk food is an American tradition. The first fast food restaurant in the world was invented in the US back in 1921, in the form of White Castle, and the popularity of fast food has grown exponentially ever since. The devotion to high-quality fast food is so strong that National Junk Food Day was created, celebrated every year on July 21.

While the hamburger is the undoubted poster boy for US fast food, is it still the ‘burger king’ in 2017? To find out, we did some market research into the industry. From the corndog to the taco, we looked at Google search data on some of America’s favorite fast food types, and the brands behind them. We also looked at Google Trends to find out where each food was most popular. See our results below:

Most popular food types

Well, bad news hamburger, because in case you hadn’t guessed, pizza is America’s undisputed favorite junk food. With an average of 2,240,000 searches every month, it gets more than double the number of searches than its nearest rival. 

Fried chicken, French toast, and hamburgers all make an appearance. As far as desserts go, ice cream finishes second with over 600,000 searches, donuts and waffles also make the top ten.

Interestingly, tacos and burritos both also finish highly, showing the massive influence Mexican cuisine has across the country. While Mexican food has been present on many menus since the start of the 20th century, it really came to prominence during the latter half. By 1970 Taco Bell, opened only 8 years prior, had 100 restaurants across the country. It now has over 7,000 and serves 2 billion people annually. In 2012, Americans spent a massive $8 billion on Hispanic foods, but by 2015, that number had more than doubled to 18 billion and it shows no sign of slowing down.

 

Where are they most popular?

We looked at Google Trends data for our top 10, as well as a few additions, to see where each food type was most popular on both a state and city level. We came across some interesting trends:

Some of our results were more predictable than others. For instance, interest in fried chicken is focused in the south, the spiritual home of the dish, while burritos see a lot of interest on the West coast, an area with a long established Mexican population.

The hamburger is always a safe option on an American menu, and there’s nowhere safer than the Mid-West, where seven of the iconic beef patty sandwich’s top ten are situated. Others are less obvious, for instance, the concentration of interest in buffalo wings around The Great Lakes, despite famously being the culinary staple of any visit to New York state. New Yorkers obviously don’t need the internet, they already know all the best wing joints!

The biggest brands

Unsurprisingly, pizza’s dominance translates to brands too. Domino’s is comfortably on top of the brands list with 27 million searches every month, with three other brands (Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars) also featuring.

Much of this online dominance by pizza brands must surely be down to the earlier adoption of delivery services by pizza chains. Domino’s was delivering pizzas in 1960, while more traditional restaurant chains, like McDonald’s, have only recently started doing so, and even then, often only through third parties, like Deliveroo.

As online ordering has made the process even easier, it makes sense that comparatively smaller brands with better delivery services are going to have significantly higher online search volume than bigger competitors.

In the rest of the top 10, there are two chicken specialists (Chick-Fil-A and KFC), two burger restaurants (McDonald's and Burger King), and a taco joint (Taco Bell). Dunkin’ Donuts is, however, the only primarily ‘dessert’ brand to rank highly, with Dairy Queen narrowly missing out on 11th place.

What’s your favorite junk food? How will you be celebrating National Junk Food Day? Let us know on Twitter @searchlabs.

Methodology and sources

Average monthly search data for individual junk food keywords sourced from Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Cities and states where each junk food was most popular sourced from Google Trends, which uses real time and historical data to show relative interest in search terms in specific areas of periods of time.

Data on Hispanic cuisine sales sourced from Packaged Facts’ ‘Hispanic Foods and Beverages in The U.S., 6th Edition’.

Additional sources:

  1. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/17/hispanic-influence-tortillas-take-over-burger-buns/
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2014/05/31/fast-food-chains-origins/9729901/