Bakery cafés continued to lead all menu categories among the Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurants in 2011, with U.S. systemwide sales of $5.5 billion, up 6.6 percent over 2010.
Technomic defines bakery cafés as limited-service fast-casual restaurants emphasizing artisan breads, baked goods and “made for you” service formats. Menus are centered on sandwiches along with salads and soups. The lunch segment is emphasized; most bakery cafés also offer breakfast, and outside of business districts, they may be open for dinner as well.
The segment’s 6.6 percent growth rate in 2011 is slightly less than that of the overall limited-service bakery-café segment, which saw an 8 percent jump in sales. Performance in unit count growth showed the same discrepancy. While fast-casual bakery-café chains’ unit counts increased 3.5 percent, the overall limited-service bakery-café segment grew slightly more, rising 6.8 percent.
Panera Bread, the only bakery-café chain to break the billion-dollar mark, reported 10.1 percent growth in sales to $3.3 billion for 2011. The chain added 100 units during the year, which increased total unit count by 7.2 percent. Number two chain Einstein Bros. Bagels also experienced positive growth in both sales and unit count, which increased 9.3 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. In fact, all of the top five chains in the bakery-café/bagel segment saw increases in sales and unit counts.
Seasonality was key in 2011 as chains within the bakery-café/bagel segment added limited-edition menu items. Au Bon Pain offered a variety of seasonal treats, including pumpkin dishes in the autumn and a lobster-salad sandwich in the summer. Holiday-specific items were also common, such as Panera’s Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day and its heart-shaped shortbread cookies for Valentine’s Day. Corner Bakery was one of the chains to menu a returning special this year, bringing back for the summer its BBLT sandwich featuring local tomatoes.
Healthful dining continues to be on operators’ minds. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery added Skinny Bagels, and Einstein Bros. introduced Bagel Thin breakfast sandwiches. Corner Bakery Cafe expanded its 100 Under 600 menu, and Panera rolled out a variety of better-for-you offerings such as salads, a trail-mix bagel and lowfat smoothies.
Operators within the segment expanded their breakfast menus in order to compete with the growing number of chains entering the breakfast daypart. Corner Bakery Cafe rolled out steel-cut oatmeal topped with granola and fruit. Bruegger’s and Einstein’s both offered meal deals on bagel sandwiches.
Source: Technomic Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurants Report
Concept to Watch: Specialty’s Café & Bakery
Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery is a fast-casual bakery cafe chain that operates according to the motto, “It’s all about the food.” The chain has made a practice of serving food that is prepared using recipes that were developed and tested by its original founders.
The San Francisco-based chain grew by 22 percent in 2011 over the prior year, in both systemwide sales (which reached $61 million) and units (29 at year’s end). Note: Figures updated from initial post.
Specialty’s exemplifies many of the bakery-café segment’s characteristics. Restaurants offer a warm and relaxing atmosphere that appeals to everyone from busy professionals on their lunch breaks to tourists and shoppers seeking a midday break. It offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and promotes seasonal items and specials via email and social media. Known for its fresh-baked cookies, Specialty’s has a cookie tracker on its website, so consumers can see how recently their favorite variety was made at their nearest location. Like many bakery-cafe concepts, Specialty’s has a large corporate catering arm.
Husband-wife team Craig and Dawn Saxton launched the Specialty’s brand in San Francisco in 1987 in a small retail space that lacked outside signage. Despite the nondescript building, the cafe proved successful. Additional locations followed in California, primarily in the northern part of the state. Eventually, the chain expanded into the Illinois and Washington state markets.
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