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Good times for fast-casual chains


Bolstered by the rapid expansion of build-your-own pizza concepts, fast-casual chains had another strong year in 2015.

That’s according to Technomic Inc.’s annual Top 250 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant report, which reported that cumulative sales in the fast-casual dining segment rose 11.6% in 205, compared to 13.5% in 2014.

Aggregate unit growth clocked in at 9.6%, compared to 9.5% last year. Of the 250 chains featured in the report, over 90 had double-digital year-over-year sales and unit growth.

Breaking the results out by category, fast-casual pizza, bolstered by the success of build-your-own concepts like Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza, and Pie Five Pizza Co., saw its sales grow at a fast cumulative clip of 36%.

Chicken-focused chains also excelled in 2015, growing as a group at a rate of 16% on the shoulders of brands such as Zaxby's, Wingstop, and Raising Cane's.

The specialty category, encompassing a diverse mix of menu types, such as BBQ, ethnic, and health-focused, had a noteworthy year as well, growing its sales by 17% overall. Chains such as Dickey's Barbecue Pit, Zoe's Kitchen, and Freshii were just a few of the players making waves in the segment.

“As evidenced partially by the notable explosion of build-your-own pizza chains, customizability has become a hallmark of successful fast-casual chains and is firmly in place as an expectation among consumers looking either to trade up from traditional fast food or down from casual dining,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic.

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