A number of trends were apparent to Restaurant Business Magazine editors when compiling the 10th anniversary edition of The Future 50. What once seemed like the growth areas of the future—cupcakes and frozen yogurt—have been usurped by health-conscious eateries and customizable pizza.
Numerous stats on millennial consumers show that they’re looking for authentic food. And that isn’t limited to ethnic cuisine. Operators are pushing beyond the basic regional fare and offering up place-specific menus, such as the self-described “Southern California comfort food” at Lemonade.
Soft AUVs don't mean small sales
Despite a dip in unit-level performance for some chains, sales are still on the rise. In fact, seven chains on the list had AUVs that slid from last year, including the first chains of this ranking, which saw AUVs drop anywhere from less than a percent to more than 8 percent. Yet all four grew sales more than 100 percent.
Better-for-you might’ve been all about calorie counts in the past, but operators are recasting health into a number of niche menu segments. No longer are diners seeking healthful meals relegated to salad spots—though some of those still are thriving (see Salata, No. 6). Veggie Grill and Native Foods Café, for example, tout veganism’s plant-based motto, while Roti Mediterranean Grill and Taziki’s support the Mediterranean diet as a healthier way of eating.
Chains started abroad are gaining steam in the U.S. While South African Nando’s is handling U.S. growth in house, Paris Baguette from France and Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot from China have turned to franchising as their growth vehicle.
The term fresh has lost its meaning to many, so operators have gotten more specific, clarifying that their food is scratch-made. North Italia even boasts its food is “handmade with love from scratch daily” as part of its tagline. To further emphasize freshness without actually using the word, some chains talk of seasonal menus and local ingredients, when possible, to give an independent, menu-created-on-a-whim feel despite the size of the concept.
It’s the hotspot in fast casual, as the conversation has shifted from cooked-to-order to assembled-to-order. While this service style only accounts for 22.5 percent of the fast-casual market, finds Technomic, it’s growing at a rate of 22.3 percent, more than double the 10.7 percent growth rate of non-build-your-own spots.
Continuing to steal sales from Subway and Quiznos, there’s a lot of growth in the fast-casual better-sandwich realm, says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. The researcher expects to see this segment grow 11 percent in the next five years, outpacing the 10 percent of the overall fast-casual market, as consumers’ demand for quality in a convenient, on-the-go package continues to grow.
To view The Future 50, click here.