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Fast-Casual Still Outpacing Industry Growth

Fast-casual continues to be the engine driving overall restaurant growth, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries remains the leader among fast-casual burger-menu restaurants, according to new data from Chicago-based Technomic.

Technomic has increased to 150 from 100 the number of top fast-casual chain brands covered in its annual report, in itself an indication of the category’s growth in size and importance. Overall, Technomic sees upwards of 400 chains now in defined as fast casual. See Technomic’s “10 F’s” list of fast-casual characteristics to understand how it defines the category.

The fast-casual category in total had sales of  $27 billion. The 150 largest fast-casuals accounted for $21.5 billion, up 8.4%. By contrast, sales by Technomic’s Top 500 chains of all types grew just 3.5% last year.

The Top 150 fast-casuals continue to grow in scope: their 17,447 units in aggregate represent a 5.2% increase from 2010.

Panera Bread is the largest fast-casual chain, with 2011 sales of $3.3 billion. Five Guys Burgers & Fries’ $950 million keeps it the largest burger-menu fast-casual chain. Loved by burger fans, hated by peddlers of social-media tools (which Five Guys doesn’t use), the chain had 918 units at the end of 2011.

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