Fast casual visits up 9 percent in a year

As the fast casual segment continues to grow its footprint, visits are keeping pace. In the year ending May 2013, visits to fast casual restaurants increased by 9 percent while total industry traffic was flat, according to The NPD's Group's CREST tracking system.

NPD's Spring 2013 ReCount, which is a restaurant census conducted in the spring and fall each year, shows that fast casual chain units increased by 7 percent from last year's spring census.

"Many of the fast casual chains have been adding units in an otherwise soft restaurant environment," said Greg Starzynski, director-product management, NPD Foodservice. "Traditional quick-service restaurants have taken notice and are working to compete with the fast casual chains' offerings, especially in terms of the freshness and quality of food. All of these efforts will benefit both the consumer and industry."

Pizza concepts part of the growth story

While fast casual giants such as Chipotle, Five Guys, Starbucks and Panera have set the pace for the segment's growth, numerous pizza concepts are popping up to add to those numbers.

Fledgling chains such as Pie Five Pizza Co., Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza, Uncle Maddio's, Top That!, PizzaRev, Your Pie, Mod, Pie-ology, Pizza Rustica, Pizza Studio and more are expanding wildly throughout the country. Each features a "Chipotle-style," chute-queue-enabled, top-your-own style, and customized pizzas made in less than 5 minutes.

Uncle Maddio's founder and "chief pizza maker" Matt Andrew said he predicts the fast casual pizza segment will be a $5 billion a year category in 10 years, approximately 10 percent of U.S. pizza sales.

Colorado a hotbed for fast casual

As the fast casual segment continues to outpace the rest of the restaurant industry, Colorado is a hotbed for these brands. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo., is the U.S. metro area with the most fast casual chain units per resident, according to the latest restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group.

Of the 15,728 fast casual chain units in the U.S., the Fort Collins-Loveland metro area has 41 but is number one in terms of unit density at 13.14 fast casual chain locations per 100,000 residents, according to NPD's Spring 2013 ReCount restaurant census.

The U.S. average is 5 fast casual chain units per 100,000 residents.

Other metro areas with the most fast casual chain restaurants per resident are the Colorado metro areas of Denver-Aurora-Broomfield (density of 12.76) and Boulder (density 12.53).

The fourth highest fast casual density market is Tallahassee, Fla., with 11.74, followed by Lexington-Fayette, Ky., 11.72, and Gainesville, Fla., 11.69.

The largest city to have the most fast casual chain residents per resident is the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia metro area that ranks seventh in population with 5.8 million residents and has 10.23 fast casual chain units per 100,000 residents.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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