17 February 2015 – the rise of ‘fast-casual’

The rise of the fast food concept known as ‘fast-casual’ features in the New Yorker (26 January) which, as author James Suroweicki says, distinguish themselves from traditional fast-food restaurants by emphasizing fresh, natural, and often locally sourced ingredients’. Companies referred to as fast-casuals in the US include Shake Shack, Panera, Five Guys, and Chipotle and these have grown rapidly since the 1990s. As the article points out, this isn’t just a business success story – it’s also about income distribution, changes in taste and advances in technology.

Suroweicki says, ‘traditional fast-food chains pretty much ignored these changes. They were still doing great business, and their industrial model made it hard to appeal to anyone who was concerned about natural ingredients and freshness. That created an opening for fast-casual restaurants. You had tens of millions of affluent consumers. They ate out a lot. They were comfortable with fast food, having grown up during its heyday, but they wanted something other than the typical factory-made burger. So, even as the fast-food giants focussed on keeping prices down, places like Panera and Chipotle began charging higher prices. Their customers never flinched.

The term used in the UK is slightly different – ‘fast casual dining’. This includes large chains such as Pizza Express and Jamie’s Italian etc. – now found in most town and city centres – and also smaller chains, like Wahaca, where sustainable and local sourcing is very much part of the company ethos. It will be interesting to see how these markets develop and how traditional fast food outlets respond.

You can read the article here

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