When most people hear the word franchise, their first thought is food. It's a natural reaction, considering how many high-profile franchise concepts are food-related. In fact, our Franchise 500 list this year contained 119 food franchises, representing more than 200,000 individual places to grab a bite, from vending machines and carts to drive-thrus and sit-down diners.

This month, we look at the top food franchises -- a list full of trends, such as spicy flavors (people love their Buffalo wings), wacky food mash-ups (bacon on everything) and over-the-top treats (ice cream with gummy bears). But the leaders of these franchises say they succeed because of other ingredients as well -- transparency, responsibility and sustainability. “The traditional attributes of ‘lower calorie' or ‘low fat' are no longer the defining hallmarks for healthy choices,” says Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox. “And the determination of what is good for you, for the world -- or what is not -- is a complex and personal mosaic that's different for each customer.”

As you peruse this list, please keep in mind it is not intended as an endorsement of any company. Before investing in a franchise opportunity, you should always read the company's legal documents, consult with an attorney and an accountant and talk to existing and former franchisees.

BAKED GOODS

Auntie Annie's Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #31
Startup cost: $196.5K-$370.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,632/16

Cinnabon

Cinnamon rolls, baked goods, coffee

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #55
Startup cost: $181.1K-$387.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,340/2

Krispy Kreme Doughnut

Doughnuts, coffee

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #119
Startup cost: $275K-$1.9M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 931/114

Great American Cookies

Cookies

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #128
Startup cost: $183.2K-$316.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 357/0

Wetzel's Pretzels

Soft pretzels, lemonade, hot dogs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #163
Startup cost: $156.6K-$370.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 290/12

Great Harvest Franchising

Bread bakery

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #411
Startup cost: $113.5K-$642K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 195/1

Pretzelmaker

Pretzels

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #423
Startup cost: $154.5K-$237.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 294/0

CHICKEN

KFC

Chicken

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #41
Startup cost: $1.3M-$2.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 14,162/5,258

Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo wings, sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #59
Startup cost: $1.4M-$3.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 576/594

Church's Chicken

Chicken

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #63
Startup cost: $413.3K-$1.3M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,396/261

Chester's

Chicken

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #64
Startup cost: $21.9K-$293.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,073/0

Wingstop Restaurants

Chicken wings

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #71
Startup cost: $192.3K-$688.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 766/19

Zaxby's Franchising

Chicken fingers, Buffalo wings, sandwiches, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #82
Startup cost: $284K-$664.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 574/122

Bojangles' Restaurants

Cajun chicken, biscuits, iced tea

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #99
Startup cost: $356.7K-$558.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 381/281

Golden Chick

Chicken

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #222
Startup cost: $758.95K-$1.7M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 125/6

COFFEE

Dunkin' Donuts

Coffee, doughnuts, baked goods

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #8
Startup cost: $217.3K-$1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 11,750/0

Scooter's Coffee

Specialty coffee, smoothies, pastries

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #376
Startup cost: $272.5K-$393.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 105/19

Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies

Specialty coffee and smoothies

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #194
Startup cost: $75.4K-$469K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 190/0

Biggby Coffee

Specialty coffee, tea, smoothies, baked goods

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #476
Startup cost: $160.4K-$317.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 203/0

FROZEN DESSERTS

Baskin-Robbins

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen beverages

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #29
Startup cost: $90.4K-$396.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 7,597/10

Dairy Queen

Ice cream, burgers, chicken

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #34
Startup cost: $356.5K-$1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 6,665/2

Cold Stone Creamery

Ice cream, sorbet

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #57
Startup cost: $261.1K-$404.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,253/10

Kona Ice

Shaved-ice truck

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #77
Startup cost: $114.1K-$129.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 713/8

Culver Franchising System

Frozen custard, specialty burgers

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #89
Startup cost: $1.4M-$3.7M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 549/7

Rita's Italian Ice

Italian ice, frozen custard

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #94
Startup cost: $140.5K-$414.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 597/0

Carvel

Ice cream, ice cream cakes

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #122
Startup cost: $250.3K-$383.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 406/0

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #125
Startup cost: $223K-$427.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 310/0

Yogurtland Franchising

Self-serve frozen yogurt

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #173
Startup cost: $307.2K-$699.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 292/16

Freddy's Frozen Custard

Frozen custard, steakburgers, hot dogs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #215
Startup cost: $596.2K-$1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 184/14

Pinkberry Ventures

Frozen yogurt, frozen-yogurt shakes, Greek-yogurt smoothies

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #228
Startup cost: $310.8K-$615.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 242/33

Ben & Jerry's

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, smoothies

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #299
Startup cost: $155.99K-$485.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 574/16

Dippin' Dots Franchising

Specialty ice cream, frozen yogurt, ices, sorbet

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #312
Startup cost: $112.2K-$376.95K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 130/1

Bahama Buck's Original Shaved Ice

Shaved ice, fruit smoothies

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #364
Startup cost: $223.3K-$720.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 77/3

The Haagen-Dazs Shoppe

Ice cream, frozen yogurt

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #459
Startup cost: $145.2K-$457.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 212/0

Bruster's Real Ice Cream

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, ices, sherbets

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #492
Startup cost: $262K-$1.3M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 183/2

Red Mango-Yogurt Cafe & Juice Bar

Frozen yogurt, smoothies, juices, wraps

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #494
Startup cost: $193.2K-$501.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 285/1

FULL-SERVICE RESTAURANTS

Denny's

Family restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #9
Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,551/162

Golden Corral Restaurants

Family steakhouse, buffet and bakery

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #104
Startup cost: $1.97M-$5.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 392/108

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ Restaurant

Japanese barbecue restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #202
Startup cost: $781.8K-$2.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 674/18

CiCi's Pizza

All-you-can-eat pizza buffet

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #227
Startup cost: $488.7K-$757.98K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 407/36

Johnny Rockets

Burger restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #295
Startup cost: $539.5K-$975.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 316/28

Tilted Kilt Franchise Operating

Restaurant and bar

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #325
Startup cost: $898K-$2.9M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 95/2

Black Bear Diners

Family restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #336
Startup cost: $527.8K-$1.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 57/18

HuHot Mongolian Grills

Mongolian grill restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #350
Startup cost: $777K-$977K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 49/9

Twin Peaks Restaurant

Restaurant and bar

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #382
Startup cost: $1.3M-$3.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 44/20

East Coast Wings

Buffalo wings

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #385
Startup cost: $658.9K-$1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 32/2

The Melting Pot Restaurants

Fondue restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #457
Startup cost: $955.1K-$1.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 124/2

Hooters Restaurant

Casual restaurant

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #462
Startup cost: $906.5K-$3.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 225/191

HAMBURGERS

McDonald's

Burgers, chicken, salads, beverages

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #6
Startup cost: $989.4K-$2.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 30,081/6,444

Hardee's

Burgers, chicken, biscuits

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #12
Startup cost: $1.3M-$1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,011/118

Jack in the Box

Burgers

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #13
Startup cost: $1.3M-$2.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,818/431

Sonic Drive-In Restaurants

Burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, breakfast, ice cream, beverages

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #27
Startup cost: $1.1M-$1.97M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 3,147/382

Carl's Jr. Restaurants

Burgers

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #54
Startup cost: $1.3M-$1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,356/167

Checkers and Rally's Restaurants

Burgers, fries

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #251
Startup cost: $155.4K-$1.3M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 505/323

Fatburger North America

Burgers

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #287
Startup cost: $498.1K-$890.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 161/3

MEXICAN FOOD

Taco Bell

Mexican food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #18
Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 5,398/923

Moe's Southwest Grill

Southwestern food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #83
Startup cost: $453.2K-$757.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 634/5

Qdoba Mexican Grill

Mexican food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #111
Startup cost: $623.1K-$815K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 342/315

Fuzzy's Taco Shop

Baja-style Mexican food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #271
Startup cost: $329.3K-$1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 83/7

TacoTime

Mexican food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #311
Startup cost: $141.7K-$817.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 268/0

Pancheros Mexican Grill

Mexican food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #408
Startup cost: $394.3K-$931K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 42/26

Del Taco

Mexican/American food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #483
Startup cost: $847.7K-$1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 247/299

PIZZA

Pizza Hut

Pizza, pasta, wings

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #11
Startup cost: $297K-$2.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 13,248/2,357

Papa Murphy's

Take-and-bake pizza

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #19
Startup cost: $264.8K-$446.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,369/119

Papa John's International

Pizza

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #30
Startup cost: $129.9K-$844.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 4,141/752

Marco's Franchising

Pizza, subs, wings, cheese bread

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #81
Startup cost: $221.6K-$546.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 697/0

Hungry Howie's Pizza & Subs

Pizza, subs, bread, wings, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #88
Startup cost: $239.7K-$472K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 533/18

Jet's Pizza

Pizza, subs, wings, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #126
Startup cost: $350.7K-$615.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 350/34

Pizza Ranch

Pizza, chicken, salad bar, buffet

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #205
Startup cost: $1M-$2.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 183/7

Villa Italian Kitchen

Pizza, Italian food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #244
Startup cost: $296.95K-$894K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 113/158

Rosati's Pizza

Pizza, Italian food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #277
Startup cost: $136.7K-$733K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/19

Toppers Pizza

Pizza, breadsticks, wings

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #337
Startup cost: $262.7K-$490.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 73/0

Fox's Pizza Den

Pizza, sandwiches, wings, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #389
Startup cost: $110.6K-$210.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 251/0

Your Pie

Assembly-line pizza

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #391
Startup cost: $311.8K-$475.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 21/2

Ledo Pizza

Pizza, subs, pasta

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #479
Startup cost: $126.3K-$442K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 99/0

Pizza Factory

Pizza, pasta, sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #480
Startup cost: $151K-$568.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 108/1

RETAIL FOOD BUSINESSES

Edible Arrangements International

Sculpted fresh-fruit bouquets

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #35
Startup cost: $192.7K-$326.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,233/7

The HoneyBaked Ham Company & Cafe

Specialty ham and turkey store/caf?

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #145
Startup cost: $284.5K-$444K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 193/190

Doc Popcorn

Kettle-cooked popcorn

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #269
Startup cost: $39.5K-$355.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 100/2

Kilwins Chocolates Franchise

Chocolate, fudge, ice cream

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #298
Startup cost: $351.6K-$622.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/4

HUMAN Healthy Markets

Healthful-food distribution

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #322
Startup cost: $64.4K-$109.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 130/29

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Chocolates, confections

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #369
Startup cost: $115.6K-$499.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 270/3

Happy & Healthy Products

Frozen fruit bars

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #390
Startup cost: $37K-$116.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 56/0

The Spice & Tea Exchange

Spices, teas, related products

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #412
Startup cost: $190.5K-$291.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 42/1

Fuzziwig's Candy Factory

Self-serve bulk candy

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #420
Startup cost: $179K-$348.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 37/3

Fresh Healthy Vending

Snack and beverage vending machines

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #481
Startup cost: $112.5K-$157.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 259/50

SANDWICHES

Jimmy John's Sandwiches

Sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #1
Startup cost: $323K-$544K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,361/58

Subway

Subs, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #5
Startup cost: $116.6K-$263.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 43,916/0

Firehouse Subs

Subs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #62
Startup cost: $128.8K-$1.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 921/32

Jersey Mike's Subs

Subs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #66
Startup cost: $177.9K-$592.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,018/42

Charleys Philly Steaks

Philly cheesesteaks, fries, lemonade

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #110
Startup cost: $153K-$450K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 490/47

Pita Pit

Pita sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #113
Startup cost: $166.1K-$322.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 554/16

Penn Station East Coast Subs

Grilled subs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #139
Startup cost: $269.2K-$535.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 299/1

McAlister's Deli

Sandwiches, salads, baked potatoes

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #146
Startup cost: $579K-$1.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 318/43

Schlotzsky's

Sandwiches, pizza, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #151
Startup cost: $503.8K-$786.98K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 314/38

Togo's Franchisor

Specialty sandwiches, salads, soups, wraps

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #179
Startup cost: $239.7K-$501K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 232/18

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches

Sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #262
Startup cost: $195K-$488.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 351/3

Capriotti's Sandwich Shop

Subs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #264
Startup cost: $363.9K-$847.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 92/11

Blimpie Subs& Salads

Subs, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #304
Startup cost: $69.95K-$359.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 333/4

Erbert & Gerbert's Sandwich Shops

Subs, soups

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #335
Startup cost: $189.5K-$391.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 62/1

PrimoHoagies Franchising

Italian subs

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #489
Startup cost: $190.6K-$332.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 89/0

SMOOTHIES

Smoothie King

Smoothies, health products

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #92
Startup cost: $181.1K-$422.95K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 747/26

NrGize Lifestyle Cafe

Smoothies, meal-replacement shakes, protein bars

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #309
Startup cost: $98.7K-$341.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/0

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Smoothies, wraps, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #399
Startup cost: $195.6K-$427.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 475/1

Surf City Squeeze

Smoothies, fruit drinks, nutritional supplements

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #488
Startup cost: $77.6K-$286.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/1

Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies

Smoothies, juices, healthful snacks

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #496
Startup cost: $228.5K-$339.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 94/0

MISCELLANEOUS QUICK-SERVICE RESTAURANTS

Orion Food Systems

Fast-food systems for nontraditional markets

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #93
Startup cost: $58.5K-$134K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 897/0

Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Barbecue

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #101
Startup cost: $122.1K-$503.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 533/7

Wienerschnitzel

Hot dogs, ice cream

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #142
Startup cost: $303.6K-$1.3M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 322/0

Captain D's

Seafood

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #261
Startup cost: $771K-$1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 242/272

Zoup! Systems

Soups, salads, sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #314
Startup cost: $391.7K-$561.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 86/2

Saladworks

Salads, soups, sandwiches

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #320
Startup cost: $494.5K-$532.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/0

Billy Sims BBQ

Barbecue

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #368
Startup cost: $169.2K-$433.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 45/2

Fresh Healthy Cafe

Smoothies, juices, wraps, sandwiches, salads

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #396
Startup cost: $176K-$343.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 37/0

Green Leaf's/Banana's

Salads, sandwiches, smoothies, frozen yogurt

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #402
Startup cost: $160K-$574.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 24/23

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

Asian-American food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #407
Startup cost: $130.2K-$520.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 184/0

Taste of Mediterranean

Greek and Middle Eastern food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #430
Startup cost: $98.8K-$287.4K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 17/0

Golden Krust Franchising

Caribbean-style food

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #466
Startup cost: $173.4K-$564K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/5

Nathan's Famous

Hot dogs, hamburgers, seafood, chicken, cheesesteaks

2016 Franchise 500 rank: #493
Startup cost: $276.4K-$1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 297/5