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Fast Casual Accelerated: High Expectations for Higher Sales

2019 Dessert Trends, Fast Casual Accelerated

69% of millennials surveyed visit fast casual restaurants.1

Driven by consumer demand, speed and quality seem to have shifted the fast casual foodservice trend into high gear.

With digital orders at Panera making headlines for an estimated $2 billion in sales2 and 35% of consumers surveyed heading to fast casuals at least once every week,3 the category appears to be growing at a swift clip. In fact, according the foodservice industry research firm Technomic, sales growth at the Top 500 fast casual segment continues to outpace overall Top 500 sales growth (4%).4

Competition remains fierce, however, and fast casuals will need to pick up the pace as the global foodservice market races to reach a projected 13% increase5 in the coming years and hit $359 billion by 2023,6 according to Euromonitor International.

As Stephen Dutton, the global market research company’s senior analyst–consumer foodservice, reported in New Concepts in Foodservice: "The battle to earn part of this additional revenue is more difficult than ever. Consumer expectations are higher, placing more pressure on foodservice operators to incorporate quality into every inch of the experience or risk losing out to more daring concepts.”6

Expect market saturation combined with competition from retail foodservice and food halls to spur the segment to intensify efforts to drive traffic with off-premises dining, premium menu items and limited-time offers. Thirty-eight percent of younger consumers say a unique limited-time offer is a strong incentive to visit a restaurant they normally don’t patronize.7 LTOs with a social media-worthy wow factor are likely to command the most attention in the youth market.

Flavor Innovation Enhances Taste of Success

Flavor gets consumers revved up and sets the stage for higher sales. Roughly three in 10 customers surveyed expect fast casuals to feature new and unique taste experiences8 and 43% of millennials say they’d like more places to offer foods with a combination of flavors.9 Given growing consumer interest in international cuisine, look for fast casual menus to reflect Indian, Middle Eastern, regional African and Philippine influences.

In their 2019 Food & Beverage Trend Report, international food and restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman summarize the trend of fast casuals stepping up their game, with flavor adventures as a critical ingredient in their recipe for success: “What you get: A chef actually cooking top-notch products; often a bar with signature cocktails; knowledgeable servers at the counter; probably actual china; a strong personality that doesn’t reek of design-a-restaurant kit … and adventurous ingredients that have trickled down from fine-dining establishments10 (emphasis by Baum+Whiteman).

The segment also needs to act fast to accommodate demographic shifts as consumer cohorts mature. While millennials, who form a large share of the fast casual consumer base, may be pigeonholed as a youth market, 47% of them are parents.10 As a result, it makes sense for fast casuals to devote resources to developing family-friendly amenities, menus and meal bundles.

Green Means Go: Fast Track Sales with Local Sourcing

As Euromonitor’s Stephen Dutton reported, clean and green living through localization (the shortening of distances between the food source and the restaurant), is a major trend11 for a millennial market that equates sustainable business practices with freshness, premium quality and nutritional value.

Fast Casual magazine cites burger chain B.GOOD, which operates its own farm in Boston, as an example. As CEO Chris Fuqua explained, the farm’s mission is to "[g]row food for our restaurants, create an educational community space for customers and give back to the community here in Boston, where we opened our first restaurant. Hannah Farm is a physical embodiment of our values.”12

Underscoring the connection between local sourcing, quality ingredients and better-for-you fare, Fuqua pointed to a customer survey: “Respondents indicated that the quality of ingredients and healthfulness were two of the most important aspects when determining where to eat.” 12

As the fast casual playing field becomes increasingly crowded, it becomes all the more vital to make informed decisions based on consumer preferences and expectations. Quick thinking will help operators step up to the plate and prosper in 2019 and beyond.

1 Technomic, Consumer Evolution (Feb. 2018), p. 6
2 Whitten, Sarah, Panera is set to hit $2 billion in digital sales by the end of this year, CNBC, Oct. 30, 2018
3 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 2
4 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 5
5 Dutton, Stephen, New Concepts in Foodservice: Best of 2018, Euromonitor International (2018), p. vi
6 Dutton, p. 10
7 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 10
8 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 11
9 Technomic, On The Menu (Sept. 2018), p. 24
10 Baum+Whiteman, 2019 Food & Beverage Trend Report (2018), p. 4
11 Dutton, p. 1
12 Cansler, Cherryh, “Trend watch 2019: 4 trends in foodservice that your customers want right now,” Fast Casual, Nov. 30, 2018

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