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Restaurant sales are accelerating at an unexpected rate, Technomic says

Restaurants’ sales growth accelerated through the first quarter of 2015 and should continue at a faster-than-expected clip for the remainder of the year, according to an updated forecast from Technomic.

At the Chicago researcher’s annual Trends and Directions conference, SVP Joe Pawlak said the combined drivers of lower gas prices and higher employment will keep 2015 sales rising at an annual clip of 5.3 percent year-over-year.  Technomic had predicted in January that the rate of increase would fall closer to 4 percent. In absolute terms, the numbers suggest total restaurant sales this year of $491 billion, compared with 2014’s $466 billion.

Full-service places exceeded the industry’s overall pace in the first quarter, with a year-over-year increase of 5.8 percent, and limited-service places failed to keep up, with sales growth of 4.5 percent, according to Technomic.

“Low gas prices have had a direct effect on foodservice sales,” said Pawlak. Low unemployment is also a factor—there are 1.8 million more people working now than at this time last year, he added.

Pawlak went on to cite highlight specific areas of growth:

  • Fast-casual restaurants will capture an even greater share of the market, representing 38 percent of limited-service dollar growth between now and 2019.
  • QSR+, a sub-segment coined by Technomic to include concepts occupying a niche between traditional QSRs and fast casuals, posted growth in 2014. Included in the category are Chick-fil-A, Potbelly and Culver’s.
  • Among full-service restaurants in Technomic’s U.S. Top 500 Chains, sales growth was most robust during 2014 for restaurants in the researcher’s Steak and Varied Menu categories, which posted gains of 5.2 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. 
  • Specialty chains posted the most dramatic sales increases last year. These include Twin Peaks (at 45 percent sales growth) and Seasons 52 (20 percent).

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