When it comes to writing about the world of chain restaurants, I’m always on the lookout for food research firm Technomic’s annual Top 500 Chains report. Its 2018 report was released this month, and there’s a lot of numbers to unpack. But a few bullet-points jump out:
* Taco Bell has overtaken Burger King as the new no. 4 restaurant chain in America. (McDonald’s remains number one, followed by Starbucks and Subway.) The report bases the rankings on U.S sales, and in 2017, Taco Bell’s $9.825 billion bested Burger King’s $9.34 billion. Kevin Schimpf, Technomic’s manager for industry research, tells The Takeout that Taco Bell’s surge could be attributed to “a mixture of great marketing campaigns, popular limited-time-offer items, and well-positioned value-priced items.” Taco Bell has also added 750 locations over the past five years, while Burger King’s location count decreased. Said Schimpf: “If trend patterns hold-up, Taco Bell is actually on the trajectory to also pass Subway in terms of U.S. Sales in the next 2-3 years.”
* Yes, people are still eating in chain restaurants. The top 500 chains in America saw a collective 3.2 percent growth in 2017 from 2016, with $310 billion in total sales. The largest segment of that growth was in the fast-casual segment—think Panera Bread, Noodles & Co.—which saw an 8.9 percent growth in 2017. Full-service chain restaurants, however, saw slower growth—0.5 percent growth last year, compared to 1.4 percent growth in 2016.
* I asked Schimpf to name-check several restaurant chains that we should be on the lookout for: “Among the bigger chains, Panda Express ($3.1 billion, 7 percent growth) and Raising Cane’s (966 million, 30 percent growth) continues to do exceptionally well. Panda Express is always an interesting story because there is really no large-chain competition in the Asian menu space. Getting a little smaller, Blaze Pizza ($271 million, 49 percent growth) and MOD Pizza ($270 million, 80 percent growth) continue to grow remarkably fast while they duel with each other for market share. A really small chain to watch out for would be Naf Naf Grill (a Chicago-based Mediterranean chain), they just entered our ranking for the first year and recently secured a large investment from Roark Capital Group.”