Canada’s Emerging “Fast Casual” Category Competes with Quick-Service and Sit Down Full-Service Restaurants

TORONTO, April 14, 2014 – There is a new category in the Canadian foodservice industry predicted to give quick-service and full-service restaurants (QSRs and FSRs) a run for their money. While still relatively underdeveloped in comparison to the American market, “fast casuals” – those restaurants considered to be upscale QSRs with offers of more attentive service and higher food quality – are beginning to stir the pot north of the border. Making significant inroads since 2011, fast casuals average a larger cheque size than traditional fast-food restaurants and in a relatively short time, are stealing market share by capturing six per cent of all QSR visits in Canada.

According to a recent study on the subject by leading global information company The NPD Group, the new category is compelling consumers to choose between food freshness / menu variety and speedy service / value pricing. Though fast casuals and QSRs share convenience as a number-one traffic driver (38 and 39 per cent respectively) and general appeal as their number-two influencer (34 and 30 per cent respectively), the need to satisfy a specific craving (23 per cent) and the desire for quality menu items (22 per cent) round out the top reasons why consumers frequent fast-casual outlets, while a restaurant being an old favourite (28 per cent) and being known for its good pricing (19 per cent) are the additional drivers for QSRs.

“Fast casuals are in an excellent position for growth in Canada, some of which will come from QSR customers ‘trading up’ their dining experiences and FSR customers ‘trading down’ their average cheque totals,” said Robert Carter, executive director of Foodservice at The NPD Group. “Though traditionally cheaper than sit-down restaurants, fast casuals can demand a higher price point than their fast-food counterparts because their made-to-order quality offerings are served in an upscale atmosphere which is often newer and promotes greater menu innovation than that of their competitors.”

As it stands, however, traditional QSR foods are currently dominating the fast-casual marketplace, with French fries (26 per cent), hamburgers (25 per cent), carbonated soft drinks (24 per cent) and hot coffee (13 per cent) representing the most popular menu items. The rising success of fast casuals is, therefore, largely linked to the perception Canadians have of these establishments, as well as the ambiance they provide for patrons who choose to enjoy their meals on premise (58 per cent). Likewise, The NPD Group’s research also reveals that fast casuals have consistently outperformed QSRs in the past two years when comparing customer satisfaction, periodically having surpassed FSRs as well.

The emergence into Canada’s foodservice market is not without its challenges, however. Even with its high-quality positioning, fast casuals are vulnerable to being too expensive for regular visits. In this respect, QSRs have the competitive advantage, as the average cost per meal tends to be lower. Further, to compete more aggressively with this trend, FSRs have begun promoting decreased pricing in the hopes that they will be able to maintain their existing customer base.

“If the U.S. is any indication, Canadians can expect that fast-casual restaurants will continue to be a bright spot for the foodservice industry, which is still recovering from the challenges faced during the recession,” continued Carter. “Even in tough economic times, the segment has shown that growth can be achieved and we know from experience that, as the new kids on the block, they are bound to attract customers.”

In the United States, visits to fast-casual restaurants increased by eight per cent from 2012 to 2013, while spending increased by 10 per cent. In Canada, both traffic and dollars spent are comparable to American consumer habits, as visits increased by seven per cent and spending by nine per cent in the same timeframe.

Study Methodology:

The above data derives from CREST®, The NPD Group’s flagship information service for the foodservice industry. CREST® is the who, what, when and where of foodservice, operating continuously (daily) in Canada since December 1993. The sample for this service is approximately 35,000 individuals per quarter.

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Kylee Berencsi
APEX Public Relations

The NPD Group, Inc.
900 West Shore Road
Port Washington, NY 11050

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