A look back—and forward—at The Future 50

Research company Technomic has provided the data for The Future 50 since the beginning. We asked Executive Vice President Darren Tristano to comment on what trends these emerging chains reveal.

Q. What have you learned from The Future 50?

A. Trends within niche segments emerge much faster than [they used to]. We now see niche growth in about 10 years from opportunity to maturity. I'm thinking of frozen yogurt and better burgers in particular. In contrast, quick service grew over a 50-year period, family-style chains over 40 years and casual dining over 30 years.

Q. What do the most successful chains have in common?

A. Early entry into a trend—they capture the window and run with it. They also have a differentiated concept, a strong franchising model and continually improve their menu offerings.

Q. What about the concepts that take off and then fizzle out?

A. They are usually late to the game and play a "me too" role, copying concepts that seem to be working.

Q. How does franchising impact growth?

A. The fastest growth comes from franchising, but you need to have a strong concept, strong leadership and strong unit economics to attract big franchise groups.

Q. What's trending next?

A. Fast casual will continue to be the growth engine of the industry, with more specialty and ethnic concepts emerging. Those that combine fuel, function and healthfulness will drive growth. Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines are still underserved, and fast-casual barbecue is expanding.

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