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The fastest-growing restaurant brands

Technomic: Nation’s largest chains posted $4 billion increase in sales in 2010

Five Guys Burgers and Fries was the fastest-growing restaurant chain in 2010, a year marked by a return to sales growth by the nation’s biggest brands, according to market research firm Technomic Inc.

Systemwide sales at the 500 largest chains in the United States rose 1.8 percent to $234 billion in 2010, after falling 0.8 percent to $230 billion in 2009, the firm found in its annual Technomic Top 500 report.

More than half the foodservice chains included in the Top 500 recorded sales increases in 2010, Technomic said. Only 231 chains reported annual sales declines last year, compared with 283 chains that posted sales decreases in 2009.

“We are pleased to see improvements in the U.S. economy begin to translate into improved performance for the leading restaurant chains,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic. “The industry has a lot of ground to recover and still faces many challenges. But our latest findings on 2010 chain performance are certainly encouraging.”

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Fast-casual and limited-service sandwich chains continue to be among the fastest-growing restaurant brands in the country. Among chains with at least $200 million in annual sales, Five Guys Burgers and Fries grew the fastest in 2010, with sales up 38 percent to an estimated $625 million and a 35-percent growth in units. Jimmy John’s increased sales 22 percent to an estimated $735 million and increased its store count by 20 percent. Fast-casual heavyweight Chipotle Mexican Grill grew sales 21 percent to $1.83 billion and expanded its store count by 14 percent.

In all, the top 10 fastest-growing chains increased sales 18 percent to $7.8 billion and expanded their collective system size 14 percent in 2010, Technomic found.

Technomic noted that 2010 was a comeback year for the steak category, which went from a 6.4-percent sales decline in 2009 to a gain of 2.2 percent last year. The firm said the sector’s sales turnaround outperformed the full-service category’s average annual performance. Headwinds remain for steakhouses, however, in the form of slowed unit expansion, restaurant closures, and a decrease in traffic and average check.

Several other segments stood out in the report, Technomic said, including limited-service Asian, which increased sales 9.3 percent. Panda Express paced this group with sales growth of 13 percent to $1.4 billion. Other fast-growing sectors were limited-service pizza, doughnut, and coffee and other beverages, led by sales growth of 7.8 percent at Pizza Hut, 6.1 percent at Dunkin’ Donuts and 8.7 percent at Starbucks, respectively.

As a whole, limited-service sales increased 2.5 percent, Technomic found.

The world’s two biggest restaurant chains, Subway and McDonald’s, each posted healthy sales gains for 2010. McDonald’s revenues increased 4.4 percent to $32.4 billion, while Subway’s 6-percent growth to $10.6 billion outpaced the 1.8-percent sales increase of its other sandwich category.

Those two quick-service powerhouses, as well as competitors like Wendy’s and Yum! Brands Inc., have expressed aggressive international-growth goals, and Technomic’s research indicates that foreign markets hold significant sales growth potential. The top 500 chains’ international-sales growth outperformed their collective domestic business in 2010. International sales were up 3.1 percent, compared with 1.8 percent in the United States, while unit expansion abroad was 3.7 percent, compared with 0.5-percent growth in the United States.


Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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