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CHICAGO –- Although fast casual makes up just 14 percent of the total $223 billion limited-service restaurant segment, its sales continue to outpace other operators with no signs of slowing down, according to Technomic Inc.'s Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report.
Overall, fast-casual sales increased 13 percent in 2012, with chains that made more than $325 million increasing 16 percent. This outpaced the growth of both quick-service and full-service restaurants.
The trend is projected to continue. The compound annual growth rate for all limited-service restaurants is 4.5 percent from 2012 through 2017, while fast-casual operators are expected to grow 10 percent on average over the same period.
"Fast casual has become a $31-billion segment since Chipotle began reinventing fast food 20 years ago," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. "Consumers today want quality offerings made quickly. Segments like burger, sandwich and Mexican have done a great job delivering on quality, fresh, gourmet and made-on-demand offerings. There are still areas of growth in the fast-casual segment for operators to adopt these ingredients for success and become viable in the fast-casual landscape."
Bakery cafés continue to lead all menu categories among the top 150 fast-casual chains, with U.S. systemwide sales of $6.1 billion in 2012, an increase of more than 10 percent over 2011, Technomic found. The Mexican and sandwich categories were the second- and third-largest with U.S. systemwide sales of $5.7 billion and $4.4 billion, respectively.
The sandwich category saw the fastest sales growth at 17 percent, followed by Asian/Noodle at 16 percent. The burger and sandwich clusters experienced the highest unit growth, increasing their number of outlets by 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
Top players within the fast-casual clusters include:
- Bakery café, led by Panera Bread with sales of $3.7 billion.
- Mexican, led by Chipotle Mexican Grill with sales of $2.7 billion;
- Chicken, led by Zaxby's with sales of $979 million;
- Asian/Noodle, led by Panda Express with sales of $1.8 billion;
- Better Burger, led by Five Guys Burgers and Fries with sales of $1.1 billion;
- Sandwich, led by Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop with sales of $1.3 billion; and
- Pizza, led by Donatos Pizza with estimated sales of $157 million.
The Technomic Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report provides exclusive rankings, analysis and profiles of the leading fast-casual chains in order to help readers understand emerging trends and players in one of today's fastest-growing segments. The full report can be purchased here on Technomic's website.