Top 250 Fast-Casual Chains See Double-Digit Sales Growth Again

Results for Technomic Inc.'s annual Top 250 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report are in, revealing another year of industry-leading growth for the fast-casual dining segment. In year-over-year results, cumulative sales for the Top 250 fast-casual chains were up 11.6%, a moderate decrease from the 13.5% growth rate observed in 2014.

Aggregate unit growth also clocked in at 9.6%, essentially remaining level with the prior year's mark of 9.5%. Of the 250 chains featured in this year's report, over 90 had year-over-year sales and unit growth rates both in the double digits.

The major players in the segment laid a strong foundation for growth as each of the top 10 chains had year-over-year sales marks surpassing 6%. Also moving the needle were the menu clusters of pizza, chicken, and the specialty category. Fast-casual pizza, bolstered by the resounding success of build-your-own concepts like Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza, and Pie Five Pizza Co., saw its sales grow at a blistering cumulative clip of 36%. Chicken-focused chains also excelled in 2015, growing as a group at a rate of 16% on the shoulders of brands such as Zaxby's, Wingstop, and Raising Cane's. The specialty category, encompassing a diverse mix of menu types, such as BBQ, ethnic, and health-focused, had a noteworthy year as well, growing its sales by 17% overall. Chains such as Dickey's Barbecue Pit, Zoe's Kitchen, and Freshii were just a few of the players making waves with their strong growth in this menu cluster.

"Whether it's for pizza, sandwiches, or salads, we have seen customization transition from being an amenity for consumers to becoming a necessity," says Darren Tristano, President of Technomic. "As evidenced partially by the notable explosion of build-your-own pizza chains, customizability has become a hallmark of successful fast-casual chains and is firmly in place as an expectation among consumers looking either to trade up from traditional fast food or down from casual dining."

The Technomic Top 250 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report provides comprehensive chain rankings by sales volume and unit count, key trends and themes, growth-chain spotlights, and much more.
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