Fast casual segment rises above competition

A new study conducted by market research firm Technomic has found that sales at the top 150 fast casual chains grew 8.4 percent in 2011. In comparison, 2011 sales growth for the Top 500 U.S. chains was 3.5 percent.

Combined sales for the top 150, which include Panera Bread, Chipotle and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, increased to $21.5 billion. Segment sales reached an estimated $27 billion overall in 2011, according to the firm.

Two of the segment leaders, Panera Bread and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, stood out with particularly strong 2011 sales growth, at 10.1 and 32.8 percent, respectively.

Total units counts for the top 150 also increased 5.2 percent to 17,447.  

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This year's fast casual report from Technomic highlights the top 150 chains as compared to recent years' rankings of the top 100.

The fast casual segment leaders are:

  • Bakery Cafe: Panera Bread - $3.3 billion
  • Mexican: Chipotle Mexican Grill - $2.3 billion
  • Chicken: Zaxby's - $840 million
  • Asian/Noodle: Panda Express - $1.5 billion (estimate)
  • Better Burger: Five Guys Burgers and Fries - $950 million
  • Sandwich: Jason's Deli - $525 million (estimate)
  • Pizza: Donatos Pizza - $166 million (estimate)

During his recent presentation at the 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, Darren Tristano, Technomic's executive vice president, said fast casual succeeds because of its food quality and innovation. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing restaurant chains are in the fast casual segment, he said.

Additionally, market share of the segment has increased 14 percent over the past five years and is expected to outpace that of the quick-service segment between 2011-2016.

"Fast casual isn't just in the United States," Tristano said. "It's also a global trend."

To put fast casual sales-growth in context, the segment contributed 14 percent to the industry's overall sales in 2011, meanwhile, McDonald's contributed 17 percent to the industry's overall sales total last year.

In 2011, the restaurant industry reached slightly more than $600 billion in sales. This year, the industry has been forecasted to reach $631.8 billion.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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