Fast-casual shows no signs of slowing down

July 23, 2013

According to Technomic’s “Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report,” fast casual makes up just 14% of the total $223 billion limited-service restaurant segment, but its sales continue to outpace other operators. Fast-casual sales increased 13% in 2012, and the largest chains—those which each made more than $325 million last year—did even better, growing by 16%. 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% (2012–2017), fast-casual operators are expected to grow 10%, on average, over the same period.

“Fast casual has become a $31-billion segment since Chipotle began reinventing fast-food 20 years ago,” said Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic. “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. 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 cafes 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% over 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%) and Asian/noodle (up 16%). The burger and sandwich clusters experienced the highest unit growth, growing outlets by 14% and 13%, respectively. Top players within fast-casual clusters include

  • Bakery cafe 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.

Press release