Four Facts on Fast Casual for the Fourth

Ahead of one of my favorite holidays (who doesn’t love a holiday for which the staple foods are burgers and barbecue?), let’s pause for a look at some interesting facts about the still-fast-growing fast-casual restaurant segment—truly an American success story in its own right.

  1. Fast casual accounted for 15% of the $231-billion limited-service restaurant segment in 2013. That’s a gain of 1 percentage point from the previous year. Even though fast casual’s U.S. sales growth slowed slightly, from 13% in 2012 to 11% in 2013, the segment was able to gain ground on quick-service restaurants, whose sales climbed just 2.8% last year.
  2. Looking at the Top 150 fast-casual chains (ranked by U.S. systemwide sales), bakery cafe remains fast casual’s largest menu category. Bakery-cafe category leader Panera Bread tallied $4.1 billion in U.S. sales in 2013—that’s more than 60% of the $6.7 billion in total sales that bakery-cafe concepts in the Top 150 racked up last year. (For Panera, it was also a 10.2% sales increase from 2012).
  3. Six fast-casual chains had U.S. sales of more than $1 billion in 2013. Members of the billion-dollars club: Panera Bread ($4.1 billion), Chipotle Mexican Grill ($3.2 billion), Panda Express ($2 billion), Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches ($1.5 billion), Five Guys Burgers and Fries ($1.1 billion) and Zaxby’s (nearly $1.1 billion).
  4. Better burgers are still big. We had to end with burgers. As a group, fast-casual better-burger concepts saw their sales rise 10.4% in 2013. And there are many outstanding success stories within the category. BurgerFi, the fastest-growing concept not just within the fast-casual segment but among all of the chains on Technomic’s 2014 list of the Top 500 Chain Restaurants, had estimated sales growth of 178% (to $44.5 million) last year. The North Palm Beach, FL-based chain grew from 12 to 33 units over the course of the year, making it one of the smallest fast-casual concepts by unit count to make the Top 500.

We’ll be keeping our eyes on fast casual’s evolving barbecue, pizza and health-centric menu categories through the rest of 2014—up-and-coming players in these menu categories could be a major factor in the fast-casual segment’s growth this year and in the years ahead. For now, we’ll say Happy 4th of July—here’s to all good things from the grill (at home or at a restaurant).

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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