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Fast Casual: Segment Update


Fast Casual: Segment Update

Fast Casual is a growing foodservice segment. Wikipedia defines Fast Casual as “a type of restaurant, found primarily in the United States that does not offer full table service, but promises a higher quality of food with fewer frozen or processed ingredients than other fast food restaurants.” Of course this is a simplistic description and there are additional markers used to define fast casual (10, according to Technomic). A well-known example of a fast casual restaurant is Chipotle.

Per the market research firm Euromonitor, Fast Casual has grown 550% since 1999. Per NPD, consumer traffic is shifting from the traditional quick service restaurant (QSR) and full service restaurants to fast casual. Due to its popularity, some restaurants such as Johnny Rockets and Macaroni Grill are launching a fast casual format for lunch, often complete with digital menu boards and tabletop kiosks for ordering and payment.

When looking at QSR versus fast casual, consumer needs vary. In QSR, consumers are price driven, treating themselves, or are going because somebody else chose the restaurant. In fast casual, decisions are driven by variety and quality of the food, healthy or light meal options, and of course, price.  Fast casual prices are more expensive than QSR, but still less expensive than a sit down meal.

Consumers are increasingly more aware of what they’re eating, and are more concerned about preservatives, additives and GMO’s than they were a decade ago. Fast casual restaurants are often more transparent about their ingredients than their QSR counterparts. Chipotle for instance has claims such as pasture-raised animals, non-GMO and locally grown, all displayed prominently in their restaurants. In addition, consumers can often watch their food being prepared, sometimes through the very popular build-your-own format.

What does this all mean? Fast Casual will continue to see growth as long as they’re meeting consumer needs for transparency and healthier foods at a reasonable price point. It’s important that food manufacturers provide options that fit into the fast casual format, and that sales people understand the unique fast casual needs when selling to this segment.