A new report from market-research firm Technomic shows solid growth among the top-50 hamburger chains, especially in the more upscale fast-casual restaurants. Domestic sales for the limited-service hamburger industry grew by a healthy 4.1 percent in 2008 to $64 billion, outperforming the total limited-service restaurant segment’s growth of 3.2 percent, according to a Technomic release. The Top 50 hamburger chains made up the vast majority of the market, with $62.8 billion in sales and growth of 4.4 percent. Their solid results were largely driven by strong concept positioning and the introduction of new premium burgers by the industry’s heavy hitters. The findings are detailed in the study, titled “The 2009 Technomic Top 50 Limited-Service Hamburger Chains Restaurant Report.”

Interesting findings include:

  • Unit growth for the Top 50 hamburger chains was 1.0 percent, bringing store locations to 40,599. The overall U.S. limited-service burger industry grew units by 0.7 percent to 47,674.
  • Though unit growth overall was nearly flat, several chains accounted for most it: Sonic Drive-Ins (up 137 units), Five Guys Burgers & Fries (up 119 units), and Burger King (up 53 units).
  • Fast-casual chains accounted for 17 of the Top 50 chains, and grew sales an impressive 11.4 percent last year. The Top 50 quick-service chains grew by 4.2 percent.
  • Fast-casual concepts Smashburger and The Counter led the Top 50 in rate of sales growth, up more than 150 percent over the previous year.

“In 2008, the burger industry showed that there is more than one route to staying relevant and growing sales in a weak economy,” says Darren Tristano, EVP at Technomic. “Fast-casual chains strengthened their gourmet burger positioning and benefited from consumers trading down from casual restaurants. Traditional quick service chains stepped up to premium burgers, and consumers responded well. In the future, the leaders will be those who continue to closely monitor market opportunities and watch how competitors respond.” Click here for more information on the report.