Unit growth in the segment declined to 6.1 percent from 9.8 percent reported in 2015, according to Technomic.
“Although the segment shows signs of slowing, fast casual is still a bright spot in the industry,” said Dave Henkes, Technomic senior principal. “There are a lot of exciting things happening on fast-casual menus and, as the US market becomes increasingly crowded, we can expect many of these brands to look internationally to further bolster their brand.”
For example, CoreLife Eatery and Wahlburgers experienced triple-digit growth; and the pizza segment continued to register impressive year-over-year sales increases of 27.3 percent despite being the smallest fast-casual menu category by sales.
Fast-casual restaurants capitalized on the popularity of chicken making it the top protein of 2017, Technomic reported.
Key trends from the Technomic report include a greater focus on transparency as fast-casual restaurants work to align their practices with issues of concern among consumers such as the environment and clean eating. Also, expect ethnic flavors and ingredients to continue to thrive as Middle Eastern concepts appear on more menus.
Finally, new frontiers for fast-casual chain growth include Australia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, Technomic said.