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Fast-casual chains, which are upscale quick-service restaurant concepts, continue to be on a winning streak, growing both in units and customer visits, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. The number of fast-casual chain restaurants rose by 5 percent to 19,043 total units, based on NPD’s Fall 2015 ReCount restaurant census, which includes restaurants open as of September 30, 2015. Fast-casual customers increased their visits by 6 percent in the year ending February 2016 compared to a year ago, while total foodservice traffic rose by 1 percent, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research.
The top five fast-casual restaurant chains based on number of units are: Chipotle Mexican Grill, 1,896 units, up 9 percent ; Panera Bread, 1,869 units, up 9 percent; Panda Express, 1,729 units, up 5 percent; Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1,225 units, up 4 percent; and Firehouse Subs, 925 units, up 10 percent. These and other fast casual chains have been one of the success stories of the restaurant industry for the last several years.
The fast-casual category is still a relatively small slice of the total foodservice industry. Fast casual represents 7 percent of total quick-service visits, which represents 78 percent of total foodservice industry traffic. In units, the fast-casual category is a small portion of the total 343,407 quick-service restaurants in U.S. The total U.S. restaurant count decreased slightly (-0.6 percent) from a year ago to 629,488 units, based on NPD’s Fall 2015 ReCount restaurant census.
“There has been significant unit growth in the fast casual category over the past several years, and it hasn’t reached a saturation point since traffic is still increasing,” says Greg Starzynski, director of product management, NPD Foodservice. “This would indicate that there is room for more growth for the fast casual category into the foreseeable future.”