March 15/Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Ledger -- Fast casual continues to defy the economy with powerful growth. The restaurants now account for 14% of all sales in the quick-service industry (which includes fast-food restaurants), nearly triple their market share from a decade ago, according to Technomic, a food research and consulting firm. A Technomic report published in January valued the fast-casual industry at $27 billion and predicts its growth will continue to outpace the rest of the restaurant business during the next five years.

Fast-casual eateries such as Chipotle and Five Guys are ranked among the nation's fastest-growing restaurant chains, and fast-casual eateries have seen customer traffic grow during the recession and its sluggish recovery, while traffic at other restaurants mostly has been flat or declining, according to the NPD Group market research firm.

“Many fast casual concepts were positioned as a fresh, made-to-order alternative to traditional fast food options, and consumers responded positively,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, in a February report. “The segment benefited from fast food consumers trading up and full service consumers trading down.”

Riggs noted that some fast-food operators are trying to keep up with the fast-casual competition by upgrading restaurant interiors and offering healthier menu items.

 From the March 19, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.