The Biggest Fast Food Chains In America That Only Sell Snacks

You won't find burgers, fries, or chicken sandwiches on the menu at these top U.S. fast food chains.

If you had to name the largest fast food chains in America off the top of your head, could you do it? You're highly likely to guess the number-one winner, McDonald's, in a heartbeat. In third place is Chick-fil-A, that ever divisive chain ceaselessly slinging chicken sandwiches. And as you move down the list, you see a lot of the same stuff: burgers, pizza, chicken, fries. It's American fast food incarnate. But many of the top chains in the U.S. don't serve any of that fare at all. These chains reside in the "snack" category, and they rack up billions of dollars per year. Could you name those?

America’s top “snack” fast food chains in 2023

Industry publication QSR Magazine (in partnership with consumer research firm Circana) releases annual data on the top 50 chains in America by sales, and it breaks them out into categories: Sandwich, Burger, Chicken, Pizza, Global, and Snack. While most of these categories are self-explanatory, "Global" encompasses restaurants like Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Panda Express, and "Snack" includes brands that focus on coffee, dessert, and other assorted items you just can't build a meal out of.

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Starbucks tops the list, of course; it is, after all, the second largest fast food chain in America, period, behind McDonald's. This fact often trips people up because Starbucks has so successfully branded itself as a luxury item that we don't immediately think of it as fast food. Though it serves a range of sandwiches, it's firmly in the "Snack" category, since those sandwiches are tiny, precooked off-site, and only about as filling as the similarly shrink-wrapped and shipped-in pastries.

Here's the full rundown of the top snack fast food chains in America, according to QSR data:

1. Starbucks ($28.1 billion)2. Dunkin' ($11.3 billion)3. Dairy Queen ($4.6 billion)4. Dutch Bros. Coffee ($1.2 billion)5. Tropical Smoothie Cafe ($1 billion)6. Crumbl Cookies ($1 billion)7. Krispy Kreme ($991 million)8. Baskin-Robbins ($685 million)

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As we've noted in the past, both Crumbl and Dutch Bros. have been tearing up the charts over the past few years—Crumbl since its founding in 2017 and Dutch Bros. since it saw sizable private equity investment in 2018. Krispy Kreme, meanwhile, has found clever ways to expand by partnering with McDonald's on doughnut distribution and expanding its menu of frozen treats. And although we don't quite buy into the hype, Tropical Smoothie Cafe has excited investors for years, presumably because they see it as the ascendant competitor of chains like Jamba.

We're mildly shocked that Baskin-Robbins is still kicking it near the top of the list, but it has a ton of units, so whenever Americans are craving ice cream there's usually one nearby. Which chains were you most surprised to see in the rankings?

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