Lancaster-based soft pretzel giant Auntie Anne's Inc. topped the 2011 food franchises list recently released by Franchise Business Review.
The New Hampshire-based market research company said it surveyed nearly 1,800 franchisees from the food sector, representing 78 franchise brands and 20,522 operating businesses. The ranking formula is primarily based on overall franchisee satisfaction, but also takes into account chain size and survey response rates, the company said.
Founded in 1988, Auntie Anne's is the world's largest hand-rolled pretzel chain, with more than 1,100 stores in 44 states and 23 countries.
"The ranking is a great demonstration of results from teamwork on both the parts of the Auntie Anne's franchise partners and the corporate support team members," said Valerie Kinney, an Auntie Anne's spokeswoman.
Kinney credited the company's strong support structure in helping franchisees start and grow their locations, its franchise partner structure that includes a leadership team of franchisees, and a constant focus on customer service and delivering quality pretzel products.
"The key is that if missteps happen, we don't ignore them," she said. "And sometimes, in the end, we've learned that we must agree to disagree. We may be on two very different sides of an issue with our franchise partners, but we've discussed it respectfully and we've expressed our viewpoints openly."
Auntie Anne's was acquired last November by Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital Group. The pretzel maker became the sixth franchise in the company's Focus Brands portfolio, which includes Carvel Ice Cream, Cinnabon, Seattle's Best Coffee, Moe's Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky's.
The company earlier this month said it is on track to open 120 new stores this year.
Auntie Anne's was followed on the Top 30 list by Firehouse Subs, Jet's Pizza, Ground Round and East Coast Wings & Grill.
In the survey, Franchise Business Review found that the average annual profitability for a food franchisee is $77,511, which is 13 percent higher than the average profitability of all franchisees.
Looking at just the Top 30 food systems on this year's list, average profitability improved by 16 percent, at an average of $89,749, according to the survey. About 55 percent of food franchisees earn less than $50,000 per year.