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    Fast Casual Sees Jump in Units & Customer Visits

    NPD: Category has more room for growth into the foreseeable future.

    CHICAGO — Fast-casual restaurant chains continue to see growth in both units and customer visits, new The NPD Group research found.

    The number of fast-casual chain restaurants rose by 5 percent to 19,043 total units, according to NPD's Fall 2015 ReCount restaurant census, which includes restaurants open as of Sept. 30. NPD's ongoing foodservice market research also found that fast-casual customer visits increased 6 percent in the year ending February vs. one year ago, while total foodservice traffic rose by 1 percent.

    According to the ReCount restaurant census, the top five fast-casual restaurant chains based on units are:

    • Chipotle Mexican Grill: 1,896 units, up 9 percent
    • Panera Bread: 1,869 units, up 9 percent
    • Panda Express: 1,729 units, up 5 percent
    • Five Guys Burgers and Fries: 1,225 units, up 4 percent
    • Firehouse Subs: 925 units, up 10 percent

    These top five fast-casual chains are among the most successful in the restaurant industry for the last several years, NPD said.

    Overall, the fast-casual category is a relatively small piece of the total foodservice industry. Fast-casual restaurants represent 7 percent of total quick-service restaurant (QSR) visits, which represents 78 percent of total foodservice industry traffic.

    The ReCount census similarly found when it comes to units, the fast casual category is a small portion of the total 343,407 QSRs in the United States. The total U.S. restaurant count decreased slightly by 6 percent from a year ago to 629,488 units.

    "There has been significant unit growth in the fast-casual category over the past several years, and it hasn't reached a saturation point since traffic is still increasing," said Greg Starzynski, director of product management, NPD Foodservice. "This would indicate that there is room for more growth for the fast-casual category into the foreseeable future."

    Based in Chicago, The NPD Group is a global information company.

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