Bakery cafés remained the sales leader and undisputed champion of the fast-casual restaurant segment in 2012, despite a surge from Mexican concepts that narrowed the sales gap between the two menu categories.
Bakery cafés that ranked among Technomic’s Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurants posted systemwide sales of more than $6.1 billion in 2012—a healthy increase of 10.3 percent over 2011. That’s an even better performance than was seen in 2011, when sales for bakery cafés in the Top 150 climbed 6.6 percent.
Mexican concepts, in the No. 2 sales spot, raked in more than $5.6 billion in 2012, for growth of 13.8 percent.
The 26 bakery-café concepts that made Technomic’s Top 150 Fast-Casual list were led (as usual) by Panera Bread, which totaled a staggering $3.7 billion in systemwide sales—up more than 12 percent, on unit growth of 11 percent.
But several smaller bakery-café chains, too, posted enviable double-digit sales growth. San Francisco-based Specialty’s Café & Bakery, which we profiled last year, saw sales rise 25 percent to $75 million. Sales at La Boulange Cafe & Bakery, also out of San Francisco, grew 24.1 percent for the year to $26.5 million. And Kneaders Bakery & Cafe, based in Orem, UT, recorded sales growth of 40.5 percent to $26 million—causing the chain to jump to No. 100 from No. 125 on the Top 150 Fast-Casual list.
On menus, fast-casual bakery cafes balanced health with indulgence in 2012. After launching a Facebook campaign, “Turn the Corner,” in January to promote its 100 Under 600 (calories) menu, Corner Bakery Café in April added two new comfort foods to its menu: the Sliced Meatball on Sourdough panino and the Bacon Tomato Mac & Three Cheese pasta entrée.
Einstein Bros. Bagels started 2012 by featuring its new Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal bagel in the Maple Oatmeal Egg Sandwich, with bacon, eggs and a cream-cheese shmear; in spring, the chain rolled out a Smart Choices menu with 14 items containing fewer than 350 calories and 15 grams of fat.
Finally, Au Bon Pain added a host of health- and diet-conscious sandwiches, wraps and soups—including the Vegetarian Deluxe Salad and the vegan Barley and Creamy Lentil soup—to its seasonal and permanent menus while also introducing desserts that fall on the more decadent side of the sweets spectrum, such as a crème brulee cupcake.
On the expansion front, Corner Bakery moved into the Kansas City and Seattle markets, with the latter representing the chain’s first foray into the Northwest. Panera Bread in February expanded into Manhattan, marking its 1,500th unit with the opening of a store in Chelsea.
Concept to Watch: Le Pain Quotidien
Le Pain Quotidien is hardly a newcomer to the fast-casual market—the concept, founded in Brussels in 1990, opened its first U.S. unit in New York in 1995. But in growing units more than 14 percent for each of the past two years and seeing sales climb an estimated 17.6 percent (to $121 million) in 2012, the chain has outperformed the bakery-café segment.
The privately owned chain—its name means “the daily bread”—uses no additives, preservatives or improvers in its breads, hewing to the traditional bread-making process favored by its founder, Belgian chef Alain Coumont. Le Pain Quotidien also sources organic ingredients whenever possible and focuses on sustainability in store construction and food packaging.
Rather than menuing traditional sandwiches, Le Pain Quotidien offers an assortment of “tartines”—open-face Belgian-style sandwiches that feature wedges of bread with a thin layer of toppings. The chain also offers omelets at breakfast and quiches at lunch.
Le Pain Quotidien is notable, too, for its ahead-of-the-curve use of trending ingredients such as quinoa and chia seeds and its creative selection of vegetarian offerings.
Click here for a one-page profile of Le Pain Quotidien, including sales and unit data, competitive set information, growth plans and more.