CHICAGO – Accounting for $5 billion in annual sales and more than 3,600 units nationwide, the bakery cafe segment has been able to successfully navigate the middle ground between quick-and-full service restaurants to outpace industry sales and unit growth for each of the past three years, according to Chicago-based Technomic. Total bakery cafe units increased 4.2 percent, and bakery cafe sales increased 12 percent during those three years.

Consumers are fueling growth in this fast-casual sub-segment by visiting bakery cafes in larger numbers and by becoming frequent customers once they do visit, a new Technomic study titled Bakery Cafe Consumer Trend Report finds. Seventy-one percent of consumers have now visited a bakery cafe, up from 43 percent in 2008, and nearly three quarters of those consumers say they visit bakery cafe concepts at least once a month.

Study highlights include:
• Wraps and sandwiches featuring artisanal breads are a primary focus of bakery cafe's menu positioning. A look at the most prevalent bread types for lunch and dinner sandwiches shows tortillas as the most-frequently mentioned sandwich bread, at 11.7 percent. Focaccia, positioned as a European-style artisan bread variety, ranks second (9.1 percent). Ciabatta, sourdough and pumpernickel have all increased significantly on bakery cafe menus since 2008.
• Technomic data indicates room for more variety on bakery cafe breakfast menus. One-third of consumers (34 percent) strongly agree they would visit bakery cafes more often for breakfast if their menus offered a wider variety of breakfast items.
• The service element seems to be particularly important to users of bakery cafes. Three in four consumers (75 percent) report the quality of service is very important when deciding which bakery cafe to visit, and about two-thirds (66 percent) consider the speed of service to be very important.

Panera Bread is the leader of the segment and has strengthened its position in the bakery cafe market over the past few years. Approximately seven in 10 consumers polled (69 percent) visit and purchase food from the chain at least occasionally, and among Panera's visitors, 69 percent go at least monthly.

"Bakery cafe chains continue gaining market share in a zero-growth environment," said Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president. "More consumers are visiting these restaurants and are gaining familiarity, but nearly one in three consumers surveyed still haven't been to a bakery cafe concept. Their most common reasons have to do with location and unfamiliarity. As more units open and as marketing efforts continue to boost awareness, there is little reason to think the segment will not continue to perform well."