Poke restaurants riding wave of fandom to achieve fast growth

A poke dish on display

The U.S. market for poke, a rice and fish meal with Hawaiian origins, is expected to increase by USD 781.9 million (EUR 786.6 million) from 2021 to 2026, according to a recent Technavio market study.

The dish has attracted a growing fanbase due to its healthy attributes and to-go friendly format, which had made it a new favorite addition to the menus of numerous fast-casual and quick-service restaurants across the United States and around the world. Technavio reported uptake of poke in the United States will increase 71 percent between 2021 and 2026, upgrading the dish from trendy to mainstream.

In response, a number of poke restaurant chains have announced expansion plans in the United States this year.

League City, Texas, U.S.A.-based Pokemoto, owned by Muscle Maker Inc., is opening 40 franchised locations and several corporate locations over the next year.

“We are now open or coming soon to 13 states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, New York, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and now Kansas,” Pokemoto CEO Michael Roper said in a press release. “While our growth strategy is focused on franchising, we also are building corporately owned and operated locations in key markets.”

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.-based Aloha Poke Co. is opening two new Chicago corporate stores and is developing 11 Houston, Texas, U.S.A. franchise locations. Aloha operates 19 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Washington D.C. The company boasted a 13 percent increase in comparable store sales in the first half of 2022.

“As poke becomes a mainstream category, more and more customers demand a high-quality brand experience. Our repeat business is off the charts, and we've heard loud and clear that our customers want us to meet them, wherever they are, with new locations in our existing markets,” Aloha Poke CEO Chris Birkinshaw said..

Irvine, California-based Pokeworks is opening 10 U.S. locations over the next three years, the restaurant chain said in a press release. Locations for the new restaurants include Orange County, California; Queens, New York City; and Arlington and Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’re thrilled to bring our freshest, premium products from sustainable sources to more people across the country,” Pokeworks CEO Steve Heeley said. “It is amazing to see our brand grow from coast to coast, and we can’t wait to get to work with these outstanding new franchisees.”

Poke bowls and meals, typically targeted toward upscale customers, feature health benefits that are drawing in primarily younger demographic groups but older consumers as well, FoodserviceResults CEO Darren Tristano told SeafoodSource.

“There are so many positives, including customization, healthfulness, and quality. We are going to continue to see more growth and sustainability for the product,” Tristano said.

The health benefits of the seafood used in poke meals is one likely reason behind the restaurant chains’ growth, Technavio said.

“They are significantly high in nutrient content, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A. Raw fish is a rich source of several vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, which contains powerful antioxidants and vitamin D, which strengthens the bones and teeth,” Technavio said in a press release.

In comparison to other types of meat, the raw and diced fish used in poke bowls is low in fat content, “making it an essential source of protein, which could be a contributor to the enhancement of cardiovascular health,” Technavio added.

In addition to its health attributes, customers appreciate the customization attributes and the fact that poke holds up well for pick-up or delivery, according to Tristano.

“You are seeing the product and customizing it exactly the way you want it,” Tristano said. “Poke, whether burrito or bowl, works really well and carries very well for delivery. It is still pretty good and healthy when you get it, compared to a lot of items.”

According to Technavio, other up-and-coming poke chains include Ahipoki Bowl, Double Seven Hospitality, FreshFin Poke, Ginger Sushi Boutique Franchise, Hartford Poke Co., Moe Poke, ONO Poke Shop, Poke Me Group, Sweetfin, Fishbowl Venture, and The Poke Co.

Photo courtesy of zarzamora/Shutterstock


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