Fast-casual chains grew sales a cumulative 8.4 percent in 2016, to a total of $40.4 billion, according to Technomic, Inc.’s new Top 250 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report.
While this growth significantly outpaces other industry segments, it lags compared to the 11.9 percent sales growth in 2015 and 13.8 percent growth in 2014. According to Technomic, a key factor contributing to the slowing sales growth trend is decelerating unit development within the segment, which registered at 8.9 percent in 2016, following a rate of 9.6 percent unit growth in 2015.
From a chain-level perspective, the struggles of Chipotle had a substantial impact on the overall performance of the Top 250, as the second-largest fast-casual chain saw its sales drop by more than 13 percent in 2016. Helping to push the segment in a positive direction, however, were such chains as Panda Express, Jimmy John’s and Zaxby’s, which all saw double-digit growth and operate with annual sales volumes well over $1 billion. The fast-casual pizza segment continues to be a growth engine as well, with the menu category increasing its sales at a cumulative rate of 35 percent. Technomic suggests looking for specialty and health-focused concepts to continue to shine and move up the rankings over the coming years as chains like Sweetgreen, Modern Market and Lemonade expand their location presence and attract increasingly health-conscious consumers.