Restaurant operators look to fast-casual for growth

A report from Technomic indicates the fast-casual segment of the restaurant industry increased sales by 11% and unit count by 8% last year to easily outdistance the average growth in the sector.

Panera (PNRA), Chipotle (CMG), and Panda Express (private) all generated double-digit sales growth during the period.

The trend hasn't gone unnoticed by fast-food operators. Taco Bell (YUM) plans to launch two new concepts - U.S. Taco and Urban Taproom - in California, while KFC (YUM) is experimenting with KFC Eleven. Red Lobster (DRI) is also active in testing the segment with its Seaside Express concept.

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