“Fast casual” restaurants hold bright spot in US restaurant industry, says Technomic

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 30th January 2012


The lackluster economy  in the US may have dampened growth for the restaurant industry at large, but fast casual restaurants continue to stand out as one notable exception. With $27 billion in annual sales, food industry consultants Technomic point out that fast casual restaurants now represent 14 percent of all quick-service restaurant sales, compared to 5 percent just ten years ago. They are expected to continue outpacing the industry over the next five years, when fast casual growth is forecasted to compound 8 percent annually.

“The fast casual segment is still evolving in ways that are strongly influencing all sectors of the restaurant industry,” said Technomic VP Joe Pawlak, speaking to members of its Foodservice Planning Program. “While we categorize them among limited-service restaurants, they also compete strongly with full-service casual dining on several dimensions.”

“Full- and quick-service operators continue to adapt and reposition their concepts toward areas in which fast casual has been effective with consumers,” explained co-presenter Darren Tristano, Technomic EVP. “This shift will likely blur the definition of fast casual in the eyes of consumers and increase competition in the segment.”

Fast casual restaurants share a fast-food service system and strong takeout orientation. Check averages tend to be under $9. Technomic breaks the segment down further into categories that include bakery cafes, Mexican/Southwest, specialty, sandwich, chicken, and burger concepts.

Panera Bread currently leads the category in total sales, at nearly $3 billion in 2010. Six of the fastest-growing restaurant chains (on a percentage basis) in the entire industry are fast-casual concepts, including Five Guys, Chipotle, Wing Stop, Qdoba, Pei Wei, and Noodles & Company.

Trends and Directions in the Fast Casual Segment was one of three research presentations delivered to Foodservice Planning Program members at their January 2012 meeting. Other study topics were Update on the Foodservice Consumer and Social Media, and Evaluating Club Stores, Cash-and-Carries and Depots as Foodservice Supply Sources.

More information about Technomic’s Foodservice Program available from contact Joe Pawlak at 312-506-3940 or jpawlak@technomic.com