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Chain Restaurant Growth Slowing: Study

CHICAGO -- The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered 5.1 percent annual sales growth in 2007, representing a slowdown, according to Technomic Inc.'s annual report of the top U.S. restaurant chains.

The foodservice consultancy, based here, found that sales for the Top 500 rose to an estimated $223.6 billion in 2007, up $10.7 billion over 2006—but the rate of growth was stymied by economic conditions.

“As the U.S. economy continued to struggle against rising fuel prices, increasing cost of labor and commodities and menu price increases, the Top 500 restaurant chains’ sales growth declined to 5.1 percent, versus 6.1 percent in 2006,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic. “Current economic conditions have caused many chains to scale back their U.S. unit expansion, with unit growth rates for 2007 of 2.4 percent compared with 3.8 percent a year ago.”

Significant growth continued in the limited-service beverage, bakery-café, and chicken categories with Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chick-fil-A posting estimated 2007 double-digit sales growth of 21.5, 17.6 and 16.1 percent, respectively.

McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain, grew an estimated 6.1 percent with sales exceeding $28.7 billion. Subway continued to dominate the growing other sandwich segment, with 6.4 percent sales growth and total sales of $8.2 billion.

In recent years, Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers was ranked as the third-largest restaurant chain; it is now fifth, behind Starbucks and Subway, which are ranked third and fourth, respectively.

Limited-service chains among the Technomic Top 500 accounted for over 80 percent of all U.S. “fast food” restaurants. As a whole the segment grew at a rate of 5.4 percent.

Asian, which grew at 11.6 percent, was another limited-service sub-segment with sales growth above the segment average. Within this segment, Panda Express, a California-based chain grew 15.1 percent with estimated sales of over $1.0 billion.

Growth continued to be driven by fast-casual chains as well. The Mexican category was once again dominated by Qdoba Mexican Grill and Chipotle Mexican Grill, which posted estimated U.S. systemwide sales growth of 42.9 and 26.2 percent, respectively. The Asian category continued its sales growth with P.F. Chang’s Pei Wei concept (16.8 percent) and Panda Express (15.1 percent). Standouts in the chicken segment included Zaxby’s and El Pollo Loco with estimated sales growth of 21.1 and 16.6 percent, respectively.

In total, the top 10 fastest-growing chains’ sales accounted for $12.5 billion, a 23 percent increase over 2006. Unit counts grew 18 percent.

For additional information, visit or contact Chris Urban at 312-876-0004, ext. 3929 ([email protected]).

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