U.S.: Fast casuals continue growth trend

Chicago / IL. (wib) Fast-casual restaurants featuring continue to hold strong consumer appeal and demonstrate solid average unit volumes. According to Technomic Information Services (Chicago, Illinois) recently-released «Top 100 Fast Casual Chain Restaurant Report», the cluster experienced more than 14 percent annual growth in 2006, compared to roughly six percent for the U.S. chain-restaurant industry at large.

Panera Bread continues to dominate in fast casual, with nearly two billion USD in 2006 sales, almost 20 percent annual growth over 2005, the report says. Other leaders include Panda Express, Chipotle, Boston Market and El Pollo Loco. Technomic estimates total sales for the fast-casual segment at 15 billion USD. According to the report, fast casual occupies a strong niche position with consumers, providing a way for budget-conscious casual dining customers to «trade down», while also giving traditional quick-service customers a chance to «trade up» to small, affordable luxuries.

For just two to four USD more, consumers can buy food that offers superior freshness, more taste and appeal, and perhaps better nutrition. Although fast casual has a strong takeout component (as much as 50 percent of sales), it also typically offers a comfortable, colorful «third place» environment that encourages lingering and socializing.