"It fascinated us," said Melissa Wilson, principal at Technomic.
"Even when consumers were watching pennies, they're still very
time-pressed," and invested more in catering when they entertained
at home. She added that while consumers increased their catering
spending during the recession, corporations cut theirs.
Technomic estimates that in 2012, catering was a $43.4 billion
business in the U.S. -- including both business-to-business and
consumer catering -- with about 39%, or $16.7 billion of it,
sourced from fast-food and fast-casual chains. Consumer catering
last year was estimated at $27.5 billion, or 63% of total catering,
with $9.9 billion of that coming from fast-food and fast-casual
Increasingly chains like Popeyes and Panera are creating
websites dedicated to catering, making it easier for consumers to
order. Chipotle is also seeing the opportunity. Earlier this year,
the chain announced it was bringing catering to Denver, its
hometown, and will roll out catering nationally.
Panera has long benefited from its catering business, and has
grown this segment significantly, said Ms. Wilson. Subway has also
seen an increase in catering. Firehouse Subs is another chain of
that ilk that offers catering.
Over the next three years, fast-casual chains -- Chipotle,
Panera and the like -- are projected to experience the strongest
industrywide gains, with a 12% compound annual growth rate
forecasted. The fast-food sandwich category, which includes Subway,
is expected to be the second in line, with a projected 8% compound
annual growth forecast.
The growth in catering is coming despite a relative dearth of
Baja Fresh and Boston Market promote their catering menus during
the holidays, while others tend to market them during the football
season. "They're concentrating their spend," said Ms. Wilson. "In
the fall, leading up to the holidays" is when the promotion for
catering is the most prominent.
One type of chain that doesn't stand to gain much are
traditional fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, Burger
King or Wendy's, in part because the nature of what they serve.
"The food doesn't transfer well," said Ms. Wilson.