Differences blurring between fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, says Technomic

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th August 2012

Australia is often compared with Canada, and there are very definite cultural and economic similarities between the two countries.  The  Fast food trends in Canada are therefore of interest to our Australian readers and in particular those involved in the commercial foodservice industry that supplies this sector.

Limited-service restaurants (LSRs) are becoming the driving force behind the commercial foodservice industry in Canada. Limited-service chains accounted for nearly three-quarters (73.2 percent) or $19.6 billion of the Top 200 Canadian chain sales and 85.5 percent or 20,423 units in 2011 according to data by Technomic’s Top 200 Canadian Chain Restaurant Report.

LSRs are restaurants where patrons generally order and pay at the counter. Within this segment there are traditional fast-food locations such as Tim Hortons and McDonald’s that focus on fast service and affordable pricing, and fast-casual concepts which have a more upscale menu and ambiance and focus on made-to-order foods.

“The key to the growth within LSRs is differentiation,” says Darren Tristano, who is Executive Vice President at Technomic Information Services.

“Most of the “hot concepts” have broad consumer appeal. Consumers are seeking out locations that offer something unique, which is often delivered through fresh, better quality ingredients, a contemporary décor and ambiance, and interactive service formats,” Mr Tristano said.

Fast-food patronage thrives on its convenience and value, while food distinction and ambiance are key factors driving patronage at fast-casual locations. There is a blurring of the lines between fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. For fast-food restaurants it’s about offering higher quality more healthy food in an updated, more upscale setting, for fast-casual restaurants, it’s about strengthening areas of value, convenience and speed of service.

To help operators and others aligned with the foodservice industry more effectively identify opportunities for growth and gain a competitive advantage, Technomic has developed the The Canadian Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Restaurant Consumer Trend Report.

Interesting findings include:

–          Breakfast menu items on the rise – Driven by new breakfast sandwiches, LSRs breakfast entrées grew by 17 percent on fast-food menus and 13 percent on fast-casual menus between 2009 and 2011.

–          Fast-Food dominates – Overall patronage is much higher at fast-food restaurants than at fast-casual concepts; while 30 percent of consumers visit fast-casual restaurants at least once a week, nearly twice as many (59 percent) patronize fast-food concepts weekly.

–          Patronage spikes at lunch – Consumers visit fast-food and fast-casual restaurants for lunch more often than for any meal: 28 percent of fast-food consumers purchase lunch at these restaurants at least once a week, 38 percent of fast-casual restaurant customers visit these concepts for lunch once a week or more often.

–          Eat healthier – Natural, premium and gluten-free options and the growing importance of better-for-you kids’ meals continue to guide better-for-you LSR menu development.

–          Street food influences continue – Rustic, handheld street foods with a global spin pop up as unique and craveable offerings on LSR menus.  Consumers are looking for new flavor supplements for their sophisticated palette.

Technomic’s The Canadian Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast-Casual Restaurant Consumer Trend Report examines consumer behaviour, attitudes and preferences toward fast-food and fast-casual restaurants based on survey results from 1,000 consumers. The Menu Insights section utilizes Technomic’s MenuMonitor online database to provide an in-depth look of year-over-year findings on menu development at fast-food and fast-casual chains.