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The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a decline in sales, posting 0.8 percent annual sales decline in 2009. According to data released today by Technomic Inc., in its annual reporting on the top U.S. restaurant chains, the leading foodservice consultancy found that U.S. systemwide sales for the Top 500 declined to an estimated $230.0 billion in 2009, down almost $2 billion over 2008.
 
"As the U.S. economy remained in a recession, restaurant operators continued to face a host of challenges, including cost pressures followed by declines in consumer dining demand. The data in this report clearly supports what we've been hearing in our consumer research surveys over the past year. Sales among the Top 500 restaurant chains contracted 0.8 percent in 2009, vs. 3.4 percent growth in 2008," said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, in a news release. "Many chains scaled back their U.S. unit expansion efforts and shuttered underperforming stores, growing units by just 0.3 percent compared with 1.8 percent a year ago."
 
Growth came from the limited-service Mexican, bakery-café and donut categories with Chipotle, Panera Bread and Dunkin' Donuts posting 2009 sales growth of 13.9 percent and an estimated 7.1 and 3.7 percent, respectively.
 
Limited-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for 85 percent of all U.S. "fast food" restaurant sales. As a whole, this group grew at a rate of 0.1 percent. Asian, which grew at 5.9 percent, was another limited-service subsegment with sales growth well above their segment average. Within this group, Panda Express, a California-based chain, grew 8.8 percent with sales of $1.2 billion.
 
Growth also continued to be driven by fast casual chains. The Mexican category was led once again by Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill, posting U.S. systemwide sales growth of 13.9 and an estimated 6.5 percent, respectively. Standouts in the hamburger segment included Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The Counter with estimated sales growth of 50.2 and 67.3 percent, respectively.
 
Full-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for roughly 40 percent percent of all U.S. restaurant sales within this segment. As a whole, this group decreased sales 2.9 percent. Asian, which grew at 2.9 percent, was the only full-service subsegment with positive sales growth. Within this group, several mid-sized brands, including RA Sushi Bar Restaurant, Stir Crazy
The 10 Fastest-Growing Chains with Sales Over $200 Million Ranked by Percentage Increase in Sales in 2009 vs. 2008
Rank   
Chain   
2009 U.S. Sales ($MM)
1
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
$453*
2
Tim Hortons
446*
3
Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar
1,496
4
Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop
602*
5
Wingstop
307
6
Noodles & Company
230
7
BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
430
8
Chipotle Mexican Grill
1,517
9
Firehouse Subs
206
10
Potbelly Sandwich Works
246*
*Technomic estimate
Total
$5,933
Asian Grill and MuHot Mongolian Grill, drove its growth with double-digit sales increases.
 
While the Top 500 chains posted a decline in sales in the aggregate, individual results varied dramatically, with sales ranging from Yogurtland's 157.7 percent growth to Bennigan's Grill & Tavern's 71.8 percent estimated sales decline.
 
In total, the top 10 fastest-growing chains' sales accounted for $5.9 billion, a 19 percent increase over 2008. Unit counts grew 16 percent.
 
International performance by the Top 500 restaurant chains significantly outperformed their domestic counterpart growth in 2009. International sales (up 3.3 percent) outpaced U.S. sales (down 0.8 percent); international unit growth was also up 5.2 percent versus 0.3 percent for U.S. units.
 
Only 40 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains posted at least nominal sales increases; 283 of these chains suffered sales declines in 2009 compared to only 213 in 2008. Both winners and losers appeared in each segment and menu category. These widely-mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners.

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