CHICAGO – More than half of the top 75 burger chains in the United States are now fast-casual brands, according to Technomic. The Top 75 limited-service burger chains experienced sales growth of 1.6 percent in 2010, totaling $65 billion.

This is an interesting time in the burger segment, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president. "We are seeing very high growth rates from smaller brands and a steady stream of new 'better burger' entries making their presence felt, while at the same time some of the larger brands are struggling to maintain their footholds."

Although fast-casual concepts now represent most of these leading burger chains, they are still only 2.6 percent of total Top 75 burger sales, Tristano added. "This segment contains some of the real giants of the industry, so even a brand growing 150 percent per year is going to be dwarfed in pure dollars by McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, which own 75 percent of limited-service burger sales in the US," he said.

Technomic has developed the Top 75 Limited-Service Burger Chains Restaurant Report. Study findings include:

  • Even as burger restaurants were opened, the segment's rate of expansion continued to slow. Unit counts increased .2 percent, but the growth from the past three years was .5 percent, .7 percent and .9 percent, respectively. Nevertheless, the segment's expansion has consistently outpaced the limited service restaurant industry as a whole, as well as the restaurant industry.
  • "Better burger" concepts are benefiting from focused menus, as many quick-service chains in the segment are expanding their menus to include breakfast, specialty coffee and broader entrées. Simultaneously, fast-casual burger chains that offer adult beverages are successfully competing against casual-dining chains, at a lower price point.
  • McDonald's is the clear driver of sales growth within the category, offsetting declines by other large burger chains, while unit growth is primarily coming from emerging brands as they continue to take share from both limited-and-full-service restaurants.