Mintel's recent foodservice survey and report on fast casual echoes what many in the limited service segment already know – the rampant growth of fast casual. According to the report, fast casual restaurant category accounted for estimated sales of $23 billion in 2010, up nearly 30 percent since 2006.
Many brands in the pizza segment have plotted to jump on the segment's gravy train: In the last year, casual pizza brands such as Uno have developed fast casual outposts like Uno Due Go, which they are currently expanding. Part of the allure may be the untapped nature of the fast casual pizza/Italian segment, which some analysts have put at around only 2 percent of the market.
But Mintel’s fast casual report offers some intel that every concept and executive looking to get into the segment should know: its challenges to further growth. For example, though lunch is fast casual’s strong suit, it still hasn’t trumped other limited service categories, like quick-service, for the daypart.
That’s likely because of the latter’s relative ubiquity and perceived lower price point – which may be further reason for big-name pizza brands to add such concepts.
Some other highlights of fast casual obstacles to overcome include:
- Lunch daypart domination – but not supremacy: This fairly young category makes its strongest statement during the lunch hour, with patronage levels almost equaling that of casual dining (26 percent of respondents have visited a fast casual restaurant in the past month and 28 percent a casual dining restaurant). However, fast food still holds a strong lead with nearly 60 percent of Mintel respondents frequenting a fast food establishment for lunch within the past month.
- Vulnerable competitiveness in the beverage category: Fast casuals’ offering of healthier-for-you teas and smoothies help the segment seem healthy and convenient. But other segments are able to match these offerings if shown the payoff, leaving Mintel to foresee “a battle for beverage supremacy.”
- Misconceptions from non-patrons: Fast casuals’ relative sparseness compared to QSRs can be a disadvantage when it leads people who have not tried the former segment to draw false conclusions. According to Mintel’s report, 26 percent of adults who have never visited fast casual restaurants believe the segment is too expensive. “This pervasive perception is something the category will continually need to address as it grows,” the report said.
Despite these setbacks, the report's authors expressed continued confidence in the segment.
“The relatively new fast casual category has fared well through the recession as people can see the added value in the food and atmosphere, despite the slightly higher price point,” comments Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. “The majority of restaurant-goers say quality is the most important determinant in their choice of a restaurant, which will continue to help this category grow.”