Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report Released

Our release of the Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report breaks down the top fast casual restaurant performers in the segment as analyzed by our Foodable Labs data index. I got a chance to look back on the fast casual pioneers who edged their way into the fast casual restaurant industry in the mid-90’s and changed it forever to become the 21st-century behemoth of fast casual that we know it to be today.

The Innovators Who Envisioned Our Dining Future

Over 20 years ago I had the opportunity to meet and work with these pioneers early on in my career and see the hidden gems of restaurant brands and fast casual trends that they were forging. Today we see an entirely new crop of Top 100 fast casual operators that are being led by a new group of young execs that are destined to create a new benchmark for the top fast casual restaurant brands and their future. Brands like Sweetgreen, Mod Pizza, Tender Greens, Shake Shack are just a few of the innovators leading the way.

When I look back at the 25 years of analysis of fast casual trends and fast casual concepts, the one area that continues to rise to the top is the adoption of technology that these fast casual brands continue to drive home. Changes in technology continue to cause major shifts in the space with recent origin party delivery strategies with Modern Market that could start an entirely new approach to how delivery will be managed by fast casual restaurants in the future. These kinds of strategies could spell doom for the likes of Grub Hub and Uber Eats should the top fast casual restaurant brands create a new roadmap for on demand delivery.

Fast Casual Set to hit 100 Billion by 2025

Our Foodable Labs study finds a growth track that could exceed 100 billion in sales by 2025 for fast casual and potentially as many as 1,500 concepts in the U.S. alone. This growth is attributed to a massive adoption of food away from home and the on demand market by the emerging market of consumers in the 25-34 demographic.

Additionally the explosion of fast casual and emerging restaurant brands is due to the low cost of entry, digital marketing opportunities and now even ghost and virtual kitchens will lead a pioneering era for fast casual growth in the next decade. Technology adoption by consumers will assist in this massive shift and the continued desire by consumers to eat cleaner and more consciously.

Make sure to download the Top 100 Fast Casual Restaurant Innovators Report to get all the insights to the future of the fast casual restaurant business. See more reports and market insights on The Modern Chef Network brought to you by Tyson Foods.

 

Emerging Brands and How These Restaurants are Redefining the Foodservice Space

With the competition that the saturated restaurant industry market brings, a restaurant has to really stand out to today’s consumer to be successful.

There is now a category of restaurant that Foodable has coined as Emerging Brand, these are the restaurants that are redefining the restaurant business with innovation, and creativity by taking the road less traveled.

These brands have developed a secret recipe that works and keeps the guests coming back.

On the IOChangeMakers live stream, we interviewed Kyle Noonan, restauranteur of FreeRange Concepts, Christina Bourg, SVP of Rotolo's and Jack Gibbons, president and COO of Front Burners Restaurants– all three leaders from emerging brand restaurants to see how these concepts continue to outperform the rest.

“As an emerging brand, we are just much more agile. So we can predict or see trends in the market and make things happen really quickly,” says Bourg.

Gibbons has also noticed as an emerging brand being able to recognize a need in the market and then quickly adapting to meet the demand is often how the restaurant becomes an instant success.

“We have an emerging brand called Velvet Taco and when we opened our first one, we were near late night bars so we stayed open until 5 in the morning to meet an unmet need in the marketplace. We have lines of people who are very young and totally into tacos at 3, 4, 5 in the morning,” says Gibbons. “A big established company just wouldn’t do that.”

But sometimes it's also just about being the new, cool kid on the block.

“There’s a lot to being just new and fresh in the industry. Consumers just want the newest, coolest, freshest thing. So the emergence of a lot of new brands that are dialed into what the consumers are wanting, especially the millennial crowd at Velvet Taco or we have a concept called Mutts Cantina which is our fast casual brand and it’s quick-serve, it’s fresh, it’s cool. There’s a little bit of clout to shopping at the brand,” says Noonan.

Want more tips from these emerging brand leaders? Check out the video above or the full interview is also now exclusively available on Foodable On-Demand here.

15 Restaurant Brands to Watch in 2019

When looking back on 2018, it was apparent that there were a clear group of concepts that were starting to separate from the pack in the restaurant industry. Restaurant closures topped at 50K closed locations in 2018– so the market seemed to have some correction.

While we did see some closings of lower performers in casual dining with Applebee’s alone closing over 250 locations in the past two years, the good news was the emerging brand's sector saw significant growth. This sector showed better performance in 2018 than any other brand groups.

These emerging brands consist of about 250 total brands that have multiple locations and are starting to take control of categories. Make sure to check out our 2018 Emerging Brands Report and to be on the lookout for our 2019 list.

sweetgreen-logo

All that said, my 15 brands to watch for 2019 are led by a group of leaders that I think have some unique and interesting aspects that put them in the limelight.

For example, Sweetgreen is setting a new standard of what it means to be a restaurant. The restaurant has morphed into a lifestyle brand or platform that will prove to be a new strategy for several brands that have the following.

lemonade restaurant logo

Lemonade is one of these as well and what separates the brand from the pack is its quality and the brand connection that is prevailing in a big way with guests. If they continue on a growth strategy this could be a player in the healthy halo sector very quickly.

Mod Pizza logo

Mod Pizza is another in this group that has clearly won the fast-casual pizza wars, now with over 400 locations and a management team that is geared toward people and culture this brand could be one to bet on.

Cava restaurant logo

My special mention would be Cava, while not on my 15 brands to watch, their acquisition of the Mediterranean fast-casual chain Zoe’s Kitchen creates both opportunities and challenges that I think are worth mentioning. They also have a rockstar group of investors that are a good reason to keep an eye on them.

Don't miss the episode of The Barron Report above where I break down why these brands have that X-factor.