Nine of the 10 fastest growing Mexican limited-service restaurants last year were fast-casual chains, says foodservice industry consultant Technomic.

Within the Top 50 limited-service Mexican chains, the fast-casual subsegment grew sales by 11.8 percent to $3.7 billion and units by 6.6 percent to a total of 3,348. In comparison, traditional quick-service chains grew sales a modest 1.8 percent to $7.4 billion and declined in units by 0.4 percent to 7,307 locations.

“Consumer demand for this crossover subsegment is driving its growth,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “Consumers are trading down from more costly casual dining restaurants, finding they can get less-expensive, fresh, high-quality food choices within a comfortable setting at these limited-service establishments.”

The findings are part of a new study, the 2009 Technomic Top 50 Limited-Service Mexican Chains Restaurant Report.

Other interesting data include: The Top 50 limited-service Mexican chains’ sales grew by 5 percent to almost $11.2 billion in 2008, while units increased to 10,655, up 1.7 percent; U.S. systemwide sales for the limited-service Mexican industry increased by 3.6 percent to more that $12 billion, while total units grew by 0.6 percent, down from a three-year high of 3 percent in 2007; Taco Bell, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Del Taco led the Top 50 in sales, with $6.2 billion, $1.3 billion, and $560 million, respectively, and were unit growth leaders as well; the fast-casual subsegment’s sales leaders were Chipotle Mexican Grill, Qdoba Mexican Grill ($447 million), and Moe’s Southwest Grill ($350 million), with growth rates of 20.7 percent, 17.8 percent, and 15.9 percent respectively; and California-based quick-service chain Chronic Tacos was the fastest growing chain in terms of percentage of sales and unit growth, with increased sales of 75 percent and a doubling of its unit count.

News, Chipotle, Del Taco, Moe's Southwest Grill, Qdoba, Taco Bell