5 Trends Driving Fast Casual Sales
The fast casual segment has seen exponential growth in recent years, due in part to the growing demand for higher quality ingredients and healthier menu options. Not to mention, three in ten consumers find fast casuals to be a better value than quick service restaurants.¹ Today’s top fast casual restaurants are bringing busy customers an elevated dining experience that highlights fresh ingredients, innovative preparation, and speedy service at an affordable price.
With a flood of new fast casual concepts opening every day, operators will need to find ways to set themselves apart in order to stay relevant and drive consumer preference.
Here are 5 trends influencing the fast casual segment in the year ahead.
HEALTHY, PREMIUM INGREDIENTS
Consumers have become much more conscious of what they eat and the effect food has on their health and the environment. With a deeper awareness around menu transparency, consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was treated. Many consumers now think about animal welfare and inquire about antibiotics, hormones, and preservatives.
More consumers are also turning to seafood and plant-based meals in an effort to eat healthier. A survey of 1,500 American consumers found that 59% of them now eat meatless meals at least once a week. They’re choosing entrées that feature seafood or vegetables in the center of the plate more than they were just two years ago.²
From salmon poke to tilapia tacos, fresh affordable seafood is appearing more frequently in fast casual restaurants. Health and sustainability are two driving factors behind the increase in demand. Rubio’s, the fast casual Mexican restaurant, stresses the importance of responsibly sourced seafood like lake grown Regal Springs Tilapia and Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon.
Slapfish is another example of a fast casual restaurant committed to sourcing only eco-friendly and well-managed seafood. While a newer concept, Slapfish is quickly expanding to fill the growing demand for fresh, high quality seafood like lake grown Regal Springs Tilapia. Even fine-dining chefs are getting in on the action—acclaimed Los Angeles chef Mark Peel recently announced his plans to open a fast casual seafood concept called Prawn.
BOWLS, BOWLS, BOWLS
From salads to noodles to ethnic cuisine, bowl building is booming. In addition to customization, bowls are seen as healthy, portable meal options. Legal Fish Bowl, Legal Sea Foods’s new fast casual concept, offers six predesigned signature bowls or a build your own option featuring a base of rice, greens or noodles, followed by a choice of sides and an optional protein such as tuna poke, hoisin-glazed salmon, and five-spice tofu..
At Washington, D.C. based fast casual Cava Grill, guests can assemble a customized Mediterranean meal in a bowl while Denver-based Biju’s Little Curry Shop delivers southern style Indian cuisine in a bowl. Even smoothies are finding their ways into bowls. Vitality Bowls, a health-focused fast casual concept in California, has become known for their healthy bowls packed with superfoods like organic acai, fresh fruit, and goji berries.
While you may be familiar with mindfulness outside of the kitchen, you may start to see it make its way into the foodservice industry. Many consumers have become more mindful regarding what they eat and even how they eat. While Americans still lead busy, fast-paced lifestyles, many of them are slowing down to enjoy their meal and really experience the food they’re eating—how it smells, how it tastes, even how it feels in their mouth. Operators are also becoming more mindful—from creating a more relaxed, engaging atmosphere to sourcing from local farmers to supporting community food banks.
Honeybrains, a new fast casual concept in NYC, was founded by three siblings who wanted to create a mindful dining experience by focusing on the connection of ingredients, health, and flavor. The menu revolves around five key food groups—legumes, omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, veggies, and grains—to optimize body and brain health. In addition to a healthy menu, the restaurant has also partnered with several nonprofit organizations, like American Cancer Society and Alzheimer’s Association, as a way of giving back.
TIME FOR TAKEOUT
Did you know that 19% of consumers purchase takeout from restaurants 10 or more times per month?³ It’s no secret that Americans are busy—so busy that the grab-and-go foodservice business is thriving. Now’s the time to take advantage of the grab-and-go business—not only can it help drive sales, but it also satisfies the growing demand for convenience.
When it comes to takeout, making sure the food reaches the customer in the same condition in which it left the kitchen is often the biggest challenge. Therefore, the packaging is essential—it should be well constructed, feature a functional design and high-quality material. New technology applications and third party delivery services are making takeout easier for both operators and customers.
1 Mintel, Fast Casual Restaurants US, 2016
2 Technomic, Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 2017
3 Technomic, Takeout & Off-Premise Dining Consumer Trend Report, 2016