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How mature is the fast casual segment? Do you expect any kind of a shakeout going forward?
Comparatively, fast casual still is a very young restaurant segment. Probably one of the first brands that we can think of as fast casual was Boston Market, but the segment really started to take hold and stand on its own when companies like Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain and Chipotle arrived and started to grow.
Moving forward, it appears that fast casual will be threatened from both sides. Quick-service restaurants will look to improve their offerings to better compete with fast casual, while full-service restaurants are testing fast-casual concepts and also are lowering their prices in some areas. As with just about everything in the restaurant industry, once somebody does something well, others are going to follow.
Does the public distinguish between fast casual and quick serve?
It’s not in a consumer’s mindset to distinguish between the two in their decision process — as in, “I would rather eat at a fast casual restaurant today, not quick serve.” That said, nearly three-fourths (73%) of consumers recognize that fast-casual fare is higher quality than quick serve and 70% view fast casual as healthier than quick serve.
How has fast casual fared during the recession in comparison to casual dinner houses?
Mintel forecasts that fast casual grew about 3% in 2010, which outpaces casual dining. However not all restaurant companies within the segment experienced growth. In essence the leaders, Panera Bread and Chipotle, are propping up this segment.
Who is the typical fast casual customer and how does it differ from quick serve?
In many ways, quick serve is still positioned for the young male demographic. Fast casual, while still used heavily by young males, especially at places like Chipotle, is more balanced. The bakery-café restaurants are more likely to appeal to women. Additionally, the customer base is more likely to be more affluent and older than quick service. Given the higher price points and emphasis on quality ingredients, it’s natural that the customer would have more income and be more mature.
What trends are likely to continue in the fast-casual segment?
One of fast casual’s biggest strengths is its emphasis on “fresh” ingredients that are incorporated into made-to-order dishes. Given that this is a relatively hard positioning to mimic, it will likely continue in fast casual. Additionally, look for fast casual to take many of its flavor cues from fine dining. Fast-casual restaurants don’t appear like they are waiting for flavor trends to migrate down through the casual-dining segment and are instead showing more foresight into what’s next.
Is price or quality more important in the consumer’s mind when it comes to fast casual?
Because the price is higher than quick service, quality is closely tied to that price. Among the attributes consumers think about when selecting which fast-casual restaurant to visit, food quality, taste and freshness are all top priorities, all noted by 90% or more of consumers. Price and value comes only after these taste and quality considerations.