Fast casual: chains post strong gains

Chicago / IL. (tn) According to a new report by foodservice consultants Technomic, sales for the Top 100 fast-casual restaurant chains grew 10,8 percent in the United States, totaling 16,7 billion USD for 2008. Unit growth was strong as well; units for the Top 100 grew by 7,3 percent in the same period.

Fast-casual restaurants are part of the limited-service segment, and provide fast service and fresh, high quality food in upscale settings. The Top 100 are the leaders in sales in the U.S., accounting for nearly all of the 19 to 20 billion in sales grossed by the fast-casual category as a whole. The new 2009 Top 100 Fast-Casual Restaurant Report provides rankings, analysis and profiles of the leading chains, and helping readers understand emerging trends and players in today´s fastest growing segment. Interesting insights include:

  • Panera Bread / Saint Louis Bread Company led the Top 100 with total sales of an estimated 2,6 billion USD in 2008; a 16,2 percent increase over 2007, largely driven by unit growth of 13,5 percent. Chipotle ranked number two, achieving sales of 1,3 billion, representing sales growth of 20,7 percent. Its unit growth was up 19,4 percent over 2007.
  • The Bakery Cafe menu category generated 4,3 billion in sales in 2008, over one-quarter of Top 100 total sales of 16,7 billion, growing its share of market considerably over 2007. Mexican and Chicken categories followed with sales of 3,6 billion and 2,6 billion, respectively.
  • High sales-growth menu categories included Asian / Noodle (up 13,6 percent), Bakery Cafe (up 12,3 percent), Mexican (up 11,9 percent) and Hamburger (up 11,5 percent). Unit growth leaders were Hamburger (up 12,7 percent) and Asian / Noodle (up 12,2 percent).
  • Many chains have focused their expansion efforts on building environmentally-friendly stores. This trend will continue because of its cost efficiencies and its positive social message.

«The fast-casual segment is being pushed towards higher standards by the difficult economic environment», says Darren Tristano, EVP at Technomic. «They are forced to compete for diminishing diners´ dollars while maintaining high quality fare. Leaders are innovating by introducing new value-priced menu items, retooling menus to boost sales during slower dayparts and developing new programs like catering and selling retail packaged goods to supplement the bottom line».

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