• Home
    Home We Serve America's Restaurants Representing nearly 500,000 restaurant businesses, we advocate for restaurant and foodservice industry interests and provide tools and systems that help members of all sizes achieve success.
  • Foundation
    Foundation Building & Retaining Talent The NRAEF is focused on developing a stronger workforce and building the next generation of industry leaders through education, scholarships and community engagement.
  • Show 2018
    Show 2018 May 19-22, 2018 As the international foodservice marketplace, the National Restaurant Association Show provides unparalleled opportunities for buyers and sellers to come together, conduct business and learn from each other.
  • ServSafe
    ServSafe Minimize Risk. Maximize Protection. For over 40 years, ServSafe® training programs have delivered the knowledge, leadership and protection that have earned the trust and confidence of business leaders everywhere.

National Restaurant Association - Fast casual sub-segments to watch

Skip to navigation Skip to content

News & Research

Email Print
News RSS

Fast casual sub-segments to watch

Specialty Mediterranean restaurants are among the fast casual concepts gaining traction in the restaurant industry, thanks to consumer demand for authentic ethnic food and healthful, fresh options. Other ethnic foods that that fast casual customers are embracing are Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic.

“Authenticity will differentiate a lot of brands,” he says. “What is important is quality of the food and that the people making the food understand the culture. “

Tristano explored hot sub-segments of the fast casual industry at a recent National Restaurant Association conference organized with Technomic and Digital CoCo.

“Some are really starting to blossom, and these are the ones you want to watch,” he says. Here’s a look at where Tristano sees opportunities within fast casual:

Better burgers: Expect to see unit growth, but sales leveling because of saturation. 2011 growth rate: +16 percent. Brands to watch: Elevation Burger and Jake’s Wayback Burgers. The 1920s-inspired Jakes draws baby boomers who love traditional food and a new generation who want high-quality burgers and milkshakes.

Mexican grill: Although this category is huge, there are still opportunities for growth, especially in parts of the country that don’t have many Mexican restaurants. Brands to watch: Hot Heads Burrito and Freebirds World Burrito. 2011 growth rate: +14 percent.

Specialty/healthy: Health and wellness concepts will continue to grow, as consumers identify fresh with healthful. Plus, affluent consumers can afford to pay more for customized food made with fresh ingredients. 2011 growth rate: +9 percent. Companies to watch: Freshii Fresh Food Custom Built and Native Foods Café.

Sandwich: When given the choice, consumers are willing to pay a little more for fast casual sandwiches. The 8 percent growth rate last year shows there is still a demand for sandwiches, but an opportunity for better quality. Companies to watch: Newk’s Express Café and Pret a Manger.

Bakery/café: Much of the growth in this segment can be attributed to expansion, not just greater unit sales. However, some unit sales are experiencing double-digit growth. 2011 growth rate: +7 percent. Why they succeed: They’re trying to bring better quality food to their guests. Two companies to watch: La Boulangerie Bakery and Specialty’s Café & Bakery.

Asian noodle: The market for ethnic food remains underpenetrated. Successful brands are responding the consumer demand for control: They like to see how food is prepared and customized in front of them. “It’s really engaging, fresh and interesting to the customer,” Tristano says. 2011 growth rate: +6 percent. Brands to watch: How Do You Roll, Sushirito and Bibigo Wellbeing Korean Food. Tristano says Americans looking for spiciness and different flavor profiles will gravitate toward companies like Bibigo, which offers Korean rice bowls filled with fresh vegetables and mixed with hot sauce.

Chicken: While fried chicken dominates quickservice, fast casual restaurants are offering food to differentiate themselves from established concepts. For example, Cowboy Chicken offers high-quality rotisserie, and Nando’s Peri Peri offers grilled chicken. Another brand to watch is PDQ Fresh Tenders Salads Sandwiches. The 16-store company, which uses made-from-scratch sauces, fresh, never frozen chicken and a unique Cajun seasoning, had 8.5 million in sales last year. 2011 growth rate for the segment: +4 percent.

Specialty Mediterranean: More and more of these restaurants are entering the market, and they’re growing quickly. 2011 growth rate: +4 percent. Brands to watch: Roti Mediterranean Grill, Zoe’s Kitchen and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café.

Italian/pizza: Many older brands haven’t evolved, and some are declining. But brands with interactivity and better quality are making inroads with customers. Today’s customers want made-to-order pizza, not pre-made, and they want to see it being prepared. 2011 growth rate: -8 percent. Brands to watch: Piada Italian Street Food and 800 degrees pizza.

Conserve RSS Healthcare RSS Conserve RSS

▲ Back to Top

We're glad you're here!®

® 2012-2017 National Restaurant Association. All rights reserved.

2055 L St. NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 331-5900 | (800) 424-5156