Amid charts and data on the continued growth of the fast casual segment, some counterintuitive research was unveiled at the Fast Casual Trends and Directions Conference in Dallas this week.
The hallmark of the fast casual segment has always been the sweet spot it claims: better than QSR, not as expensive as fine dining. But according to Technomic research, consumers are not seeing such a big difference between fast casual and QSR.
When it comes to food quality, 85 percent of consumers said fast casual offerings were good or very good. But they gave QSR a margin-of-error-worthy 82 percent. On “value” the difference was even smaller: 85 percent said fast casual was good or very good compared with 83 percent for QSR. There was only a three points spread on service: 91 percent for fast casual and 88 percent for QSR.
Technomic does not have historical data that would reveal insights into the trends, but the research firm believes the close race is a result of the QSR segment stepping up its game in response to fast casual’s competitive edge. Things like Domino’s introducing “Artisan Pizzas,” Hardee’s with it Natural Cut French Fries and White Castle trying out beer and wine. There’s also stepped up store designs from nearly every major QSR player.
On this final point, fast casual seems to still command a sizable lead. Eighty-two percent of consumers said the atmosphere in fast casual restaurants was good or very good, while QSR commanded only 76 percent.
Other insights from the conference:
- The fast casual segment continues to lead the industry, with 11% growth over the past five years, compared with 1.4 percent from QSRs and negative .5 percent from full service.
- The Better Burger category led the field in 2011 with 16 percent growth, followed by Mexican with 14 percent.
Technomic Vice President Darren Tristano listed off their picks for fast casual concepts to watch:
- Bakery Café Category: La Boulange Bakery and Specialty’s Café & Bakery
- Mexican Grill Category: Hot Heads Burrito and Freebirds World Burrito
- Chicken Category: Nando’s Peri Peri and PDQ Fresh Tenders
- Sandwich Category: Newk’s Express Café and Pret A Manger
- Asian Noodle Category: How Do You Roll and Bibigo Wellbring Korean Food
- Better Burger Category: Elevation Burger and Jake’s Wayback Burgers
- Italian/Pizza Category: Piada Italian Street Food and 800 Degrees Pizza
- Mediterranean Category: Roti Mediterranean Grill and Zoes Kitchen
- Healthy Category: Freshii and Native Foods Café