Recent industry developments are showing signs that soon; Asian fast-casual restaurant chains will be as many as the others in the country.
Everywhere you go in the United States, you are likely to find chains that sell fried chicken, hamburgers, sub sandwiches or tacos. They’re the kind of food that’s filling, inexpensive and convenient, aside from being the ones that consumers love to buy.
But we can’t say that much for Thai Noodles, sashimi, or the other kinds of Asian dishes. If you’d find one that sells them, it’s more likely to be a local joint. The Asian category in the country’s fast food industry is still waiting to be developed, as out of the total sales of the top 500 chains in the U.S., only about 1.7% came from Asian restaurants. There isn’t much opportunity that is seen in this sector due to several reasons – among them is the existence of several inexpensive mom-and-pop restaurants across the country that offers Asian dishes at relatively good prices. Another cause is the reality that Asian dishes is still not yet as popular (and acceptable) in many parts of the country.
But as the bigwigs in the chain restaurant industry continuously search for opportunities to expand in the U.S., the Asian segment is increasingly becoming more appealing.
“The other chain sectors such as hamburger, pizza, Mexican dishes, and fried chicken have had a gainful head-start, but if you would take a closer look at their sales growth rate, it is significantly small, “said Technomic’s director of product innovation Mary Chapman. “Last year, the Asian chains, in both fast food and fast casual, increased their sales to 9.3%, a considerable growth rate for a supposedly minority sector.”
Chinese cuisine is particularly popular – beef lo mien, Chinese sausage, chicken fried rice, egg rolls, crab rangoon, wonton soup, steamed dumplings, pepper steak and fried wontons – although slowly the consumers’ interest is gradually expanding into other Asian-culinary horizons as well.
“The Asian chains are said to have a high flavor profile – and this goes rather well for consumers, as their tastes are now evolving into more interesting flavors,” said Ms. Chapman. Thai chefs in their neat chef coats are proud of their version of spring roll (Poh Pia Tod), shrimp cake (Tod Mun Goong) and marinated chicken grilled on a stick (Satay Gai) are slowly endearing themselves to American diners. Vietnam’s Pho (chicken soup), Bun Cha (grilled meat) and Banh Khoai (pancake like with rich peanut sauce) are becoming more in-demand, as well as Indian delicacies samosa (savory patties), chicken tikka misala (curried roasted chicken), and kaju barfi (thickened milk with sugar). Japanese dishes, of course have taken its ground too, as its sushi and sashimi, miso soup, beef sukiyaki and yakisoba are becoming smash hits in Asian restaurants.
Even non-Asian dining places have allowed their excellent chefs in smart chef coats to successfully feature Asian appetizers and entrees in their menus and found that it’s slowly getting accepted. Technomic reports show that there had been an increase in the number of chains – 19% of the total 250 chains in the U.S. – which offers Asian items on its menus, mainly caused by the public’s reception of this latest culinary direction. Even McDonald’s has its own – their bestselling Asian Salad.
We see, of course, that one reason for the growing inclination is population growth. The U.S. Census reports that there are 14.5 million Asians in the country, with a growth rate of 43% from the year 2000 until 2010. The largest Asian population in America is Chinese, followed by Filipinos (whose food culture is an offshoot of many cultures, including Chinese), Indian and Vietnamese. With all these reasons laid out, we can very well assume that pretty soon Asian fast-casual will be able to compete with burger chains, pizza chains and all the top sellers in the trade.