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Food and Drink

Appetites for Asian cuisine in US pushes growth in fast-food market

Hankerings for fast, convenient Asian foods have been growing in the US, pushing retail sales at Asian chains to the top of their category.

According to the latest report from Technomic, a food consultancy group, sales at limited-service Asian restaurants grew well above their international segment average in 2010, with a growth of 9.3 percent.

Limited-service eating places include sandwich and coffee shops and fast-food restaurants.

Technomic singled out California-based chain Panda Express for pushing this growth, as it generated sales of $1.4 billion last year, growing 12.8 percent. The report, released on Monday, was based on the annual sales figures of 500 of the country's largest fast-food outlets.

Panda Express serves Chinese fare and has 1,335 locations throughout the US and Puerto Rico. In addition to standalone restaurants, it has locations in food courts, airports, college campuses and sports arenas and has aggressive plans for expansion.

Its focus will be on "high visibility power centers" like major intersections and shopping centers, and non-traditional sites like casinos and hospitals. Menu items include popular Westernized Chinese foods like sweet and sour pork and orange chicken.

Meanwhile, a new Asian fast-food chain by the same people who created the Chipotle Mexican Grill mini dynasty, has also been creating a lot of buzz for its potential to become another major player in the fast-food market. While the owners have remained mum on details, industry observers speculate the restaurants will serve fare from all over Asia - Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand - given that the officially registered name for the chain is ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.

Appetites for Japanese cuisine is also sweeping North America, with fast-food sushi and teriyaki outlets asserting a visible presence in high traffic areas.

Yoshinoya, one of the oldest fast-food restaurant chains in the world, has 96 restaurants in California, Arizona, Nevada and New York with more plans for expansion. More than a century old, Yoshinoya opened its first restaurant in Tokyo in 1899 and serves a variety of rice bowls and teriyakis. They also have 1,500 locations in Japan, China, Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and the US.