Report: Fast-Casual Chains Poised To Show Most Growth

What's coming up for restaurant industry trends? Think more "organic" offerings, more social responsibility, more ethnically diverse offerings and a growth in fast-casual restaurant chains, according to new research from restaurant consultancy Technomic.

The company's report of the top 100 emerging chains--generally local or regional chains with annual sales between $2 million and $50 million--determined that the fast-casual segment looks to be the one poised for the most growth, Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Information Services, tells Marketing Daily. (The fast-casual chains straddle the line between fast-food and a full-service sit-down meal.)

With their perception of higher-quality and fresher offerings, the fast-casual chains are appealing to consumers who believe they're getting at least a somewhat healthier offering, Tristano says. "There's quite a few fast-casual [chains] on the rise," he says. "They're experiencing three to four times the growth of the quick-service chains."

In the quick-service segment, regional coffee and frozen dessert chains are on the rise, with an ability to better cater to local tastes than the national chains, Tristano says. Also, there has been an influx of international "concepts" in regional markets, particularly those built around Asian, Latin American and Mexican menus, he says.

"There's a number of successful international [-themed] restaurant chains," Tristano says, adding that this trend will continue as people seek more authentic ethnic foods from more diverse cultures.

While many of these regional chains that are proving successful have a very strong brand loyalty, many have trouble expanding beyond their home regions, Tristano says. But that doesn't stop the bigger chains from adapting their concepts on a more national scale.

"We started to see the growth of smaller salad-oriented chains [a few years ago], and now look where McDonald's is," he says. "What happens is [the big chains] are not looking to acquire the fresh concept, but they are looking to adapt those concepts into their brands."

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