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7 chains that will dominate the restaurant industry in 2017
Written by Malek

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Elevation Burger 6

As 2016 comes to a close, the restaurant industry is prepping for a new year.  To succeed in 2017, chains will need to stay on the cutting edge as trends like automation and menu transparency continue to gain traction. Restaurants will also have to take on greater competition from smaller chains and independent restaurants.

We spoke with restaurant industry experts Catherine De Orio, an executive director of the culinary nonprofit Kendall College Trust, and Shilen Patel, co-founder of the consultancy Independents United, to see what restaurants chains they are looking out for in 2017. 

Here are seven chains poised for a breakthrough in the new year, according to De Orio and Patel

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1. Sweetgreen

1. Sweetgreen
Hollis Johnson

Sweetgreen, a salad chain with roughly 50 locations in the US, has gained a cult following since it was founded in 2007, thanks to its popular app and its focus on high-quality local ingredients.

"They have had tremendous growth and have seemingly succeeded where many other chains that have tried to redefine healthy fast food have failed," De Orio told Business Insider. "It ticks all the important boxes: clean eating, responsible sourcing and community building."

2. Elevation Burger

Elevation Burger fits the trend of restaurants providing a specific type of "healthy" food, according to Patel. In this case, the 59-location chain has succeeded in crafting a burger made with organic, grass-feed beef that is just as tasty as the competition. 

"If I'm going to eat a burger, I'm going to eat one... that's 100% organic, with no antibiotics, no hormones," Patel said. "If I'm the kind of person who not only wants to eat well, but also cares about how I'm affecting the world around me, it becomes a very easy choice for me." 

3. Freshii

3. Freshii
Hollis Johnson

Freshii — a health-centric chain with more than 200 locations — similarly fits Patel's vision of chains that will thrive thanks to their unique approach to healthy food. 

"[Customers] are looking for healthy options that really work for them," he said. 

4. Protein Bar

Protein Bar serves up healthy and protein-packed variations on burritos, bowls, and salads, as well as a vitamin-packed smoothie menu. The chain opened its first location in 2009, and now has 20 restaurants in Chicago, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

"It’s about flavor, convenience and nutrition," said De Orio. "It hits all the hot button topics in fast causal dining."

5. Chipotle

While Chipotle has had an exceedingly difficult 2016 following an E. coli scandal that hugely impacted sales, De Orio believes the brand is due for a comeback. 

"They are a strong brand with a solid philosophy and a loyal, cult-like following," she said. "2017 should see them on the upswing."

6. Verts

Verts — which opened its first location in Austin in 2011 — debuted restaurants New York and Boston in 2016 and plans to continue its East Coast expansion in the new year. 

"The original kebab and eating culture comes from Mediterranean eating culture, which is incredibly healthy," Patel said. Verts is perfectly positioned to remind Americans that falafel doesn't have to be a cheat day treat, he continued.  

7. Pret A Manger

7. Pret A Manger
Chloe Pantazi/Business Insider

The London-based sandwich shop has more than 350 locations around the world — something that, according to Patel, makes the chain's ability to spot trends even more impressive. 

"They have always been slightly ahead of the trend," he said. 

In 2016, Pret A Manger's strategy for staying ahead of trends meant opening a popular vegetarian location. Next year, Patel says he doesn't know what the chain will do — but he's sure it will help set the tone for the rest of the industry.