Food and Beverage

Fast Casual Chains Not An Economic Casualty

Fast casual chains are bucking the trading down trend. Buoyed by healthier offerings and a narrowing price gap compared to quick-service restaurants, chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle are seeing a continued sales surge.

External Source Two research reports show sales in the segment shot up more than 13% last year, and experts predict the growth to continue.

Mintel, Chicago, cites a 13.2% increase in the sector to $11.5 billion last year. Technomic, Chicago, pegs growth at 13.3% and estimates the category to be around $17 billion.

Why is the sector thriving in a so-so economy? Partially, it's because of demographics. Fast casual benefits from having a younger consumer base that has more discretionary income. At the same time, it attracts a more affluent audience. "There is at least equal or greater likelihood of use among higher income household adults," said David Morris, senior research analyst at Mintel.

The category is stealing baby boomers from their fast food rivals, said Jeff Davis, president of Sandelman & Associates, Villa Park, Calif. "As baby boomers age, they still like that fast food occasion, but they also want a slightly better experience, and so, marketers are exploiting that niche."

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