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Fast-Casual Foodservice Continues Growth Spurt

Sales outpace other restaurant industry segments. 

Fast-casual sales increased 13 percent in 2012, and the largest chains — those which each made more than $325 million last year — did even better, growing by 16 percent, according to a Technomic study. Fast-casual restaurants continue to outperform both quick-service and full-service establishments and post strong gains even while the rest of the industry is having a more difficult time.

Looking forward, the trend is expected to continue. Whereas the compound annual growth rate for all limited-service restaurants is 4.5 percent (2012 through 2017), fast-casual operators are expected to grow 10 percent, on average, over the same period.

"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," said said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. "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 continued to lead all menu categories among the Top 150 fast-casual chains, with U.S. system wide sales of $6.1 billion, up more than 10 percent compared to 2011. The Mexican and sandwich categories were second and third largest, with U.S. system wide sales of $5.7 and $4.4 billion, respectively. The categories that saw the fastest sales growth were sandwich (up 17 percent) and Asian/noodle (up 16 percent). The burger and sandwich clusters experienced the highest unit growth, growing outlets by 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Top players within fast-casual segments 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.
  • Pizza led by Donatos Pizza with estimated sales of $157 million.