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Fast Casual Burger Growth Sizzling!

Summary

The burger industry is sizzling, and fast-casual concepts are proliferating in the segment.

Privately-held companies such as Five Guys, Smashburger, and Fatburger have hundreds of restaurants throughout the US and across the globe.

But how are some of the public players faring? Let's have a look.

The burger market within the restaurant industry is the largest dine-out segment in the US with more than $70 billion in yearly sales. It is estimated to be twice the size of the next largest category, the pizza market, and has proven to be successful around the globe as well, with an estimated global market size of more than $135 billion. We expect overall "burger demand" to continue to increase at a GDP-like pace and generally ebb and flow with the broader economic cycle, as consumers trade-up in good times and trade-down in troubled times. Concept proliferation by new entrants may offer an incremental tailwind to the overall market size, while lower prices at the gas pump have already offered a shot in the arm for operators, albeit arguably a temporary one.

The burger industry is largely dependent of the price of its key ingredient, beef. 2015 will mark the fifth consecutive yearly decline in commercial beef production in the US, and the lowest amount of beef produced since 1993, but beef prices are hovering at all-time highs. We don't expect food input costs for producers to alleviate anytime soon, and pressures to increase the minimum wage could also prove to be stiff headwinds. Offsetting increased labor cost inflation may represent the greatest obstacle to margin expansion in the restaurant space in coming years. New burger concepts will look to the leveraging of operating costs as the number of restaurants under operation advance, as price hikes may not be welcomed wholeheartedly by price-conscious consumers, especially at Five Guys and Shake Shack (NYSE:SHAK), the high end of the fast-casual burger market. Mature chains may have to look elsewhere to offset higher costs, and it's no surprise that headcount reductions and robotics have become primary areas of interest for established players.


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