Largest Restaurant Chains Contend With Slowing Sales

CHICAGO -- The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains saw a 3.5-percent annual sales increase in 2013, marking a significant drop from the 4.9-percent growth posted in 2012, according to the annual Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report from Technomic Inc. Overall, systemwide sales for these chains grew to an estimated $264 billion last year, an increase of more than $8.8 billion from the previous year.

"Although we have seen overall growth within the Top 500, the pace has slowed since last year," stated Technomic President Ron Paul. "Competition for share of stomach is getting more and more challenging. But brands that have found a way to differentiate themselves are gaining market share."

In the limited-service segment, the Asian, bakery café and coffee café categories saw the highest growth, with Panda Express (10.7-percent sales growth), Panera Bread (11.8 percent) and Starbucks (10.6 percent) leading the way.

Additionally, chicken chains had above-average sales growth. Chick-fil-A grew 9.1 percent to $5.1 billion in sales and surpassed KFC as the top chicken chain.

McDonald's, still the largest U.S. restaurant chain, achieved only 0.7 percent sales growth to reach annual sales of $35.9 billion. Subway remains the second-largest restaurant chain, followed by Starbucks, Wendy's and Burger King.

As a group, limited-service restaurants saw a 3.9-percent sales bump.

Meanwhile, full-service restaurants saw a 2.4-percent sales increase in 2013, down slightly from the 2.9-percent growth generated in 2012. Full-service steak restaurants increased sales by 6.2 percent, while varied-menu chains grew 2.5 percent.

More than 67 percent of the top 500 restaurant chains saw at least nominal sales increases, Technomic found. Only 156 suffered a decline in sales, down from the 168 who did so in 2012. Winners and losers were found in every segment and menu category, demonstrating the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for both suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners, according to the report.

The top five fastest-growing chains with sales over $200 million are: Dickey's Barbecue Pit ($331 million); Smashburger ($215 million); Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers ($321 million); Marco's Pizza ($234 million); and Jersey Mike's Subs ($406 million).

The top five fastest-growing chains with sales under $200 million are: BurgerFi ($45 million); Del Frisco's Grille ($44 million); Twin Peaks ($165 million); CherryBerry ($62 million); and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt ($114 million).

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