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CHICAGO – The Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo., area has a new claim to fame. It is the U.S. metro area with the most fast-casual restaurant chain units per resident, according to the most recent restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group.
Although the area has only 41 fast-casual units out of the 15,728 that exist within the United States, the Fort Collins-Loveland metro area is No. 1 in terms of unit density at 13.14 fast-casual chain locations per 100,000 residents. The U.S. average is five fast-casual chain units per 100,000 residents.
NPD data also shows that visits to fast-casual restaurants have continued to increase even while total restaurant industry traffic has shown little growth. Fast-casual visits increased by 9 percent during the year ended May 2013, according to NPD's CREST, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants. Meanwhile, the latest ReCount census, which is conducted in the spring and fall each year, shows that fast-casual chain units increased by 7 percent from last year's spring census.
Other metro areas with the most fast-casual chain restaurants per resident are the Colorado metro areas of Denver-Aurora-Broomfield (density of 12.76) and Boulder (density 12.53); Tallahassee, Fla. (density 11.74); Lexington-Fayette, Ky. (density 11.72); and Gainesville, Fla. (density 11.69).
The largest city to have the most fast-casual chain restaurants per resident is the Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Maryland-West Virginia metro area, which ranks seventh in population with 5.8 million residents and has 10.23 fast-casual chain units per 100,000 residents.
"Many of the fast-casual chains have been adding units in an otherwise soft restaurant environment," said Greg Starzynski, director of product management for NPD Foodservice. "Traditional quick-service restaurants have taken notice and are working to compete with the fast-casual chains' offerings, especially in terms of the freshness and quality of food. All of these efforts will benefit both the consumer and industry."