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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Investors are scrambling to get their hands on next-generation meatless and agrifood technology companies, but the past couple of years have proven very lucrative for old-fashioned fast-food chains.

Why it matters: While legacy brands like Kraft Heinz and Campbell's are losing market share as consumers' tastes and shopping habits change, fast-food legacy names like McDonald's and KFC/Taco Bell owner YUM! Brands are seeing all-time high stock prices.

  • It's thanks in large part to investments in digital engagement and third-party delivery that have turbocharged sales and revenue in recent quarters.

By the numbers: Restaurant stocks have outperformed the S&P 500 by 13% over the last 12 months and valuations are up 16% year over year, analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a Monday note to clients.

  • Quick service and fast-casual restaurants — including traditional fast-food and pricier chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack — are doing even better, outperforming the S&P by 14% year-to-date and 27% over the last 12 months, Goldman analysts led by Katherine Fogertey said in the note.
  • McDonald's has seen its stock hit all-time highs 18 times in 2019, according to ETFTrends.com.
  • Even last year, when the S&P fell 6.2% overall, 5 companies from the fast-casual restaurant sector posted annual gains of 30% or more, led by Wingstop, which rose 65%.

The big picture: Even better for investors, "fundamentals are accelerating," Goldman analysts say, calling for 28% upside for Chipotle's stock — it touched a record high just last week — to $1,000 a share.

  • "Restaurants is a rare sector in the market that doesn’t yet face Amazon encroachment — digital is helping to drive growth and profits."

Between the lines: The fast-food industry's biggest tailwind is coming from a surprising source — the increased pay of low-wage workers.

  • After trailing higher-paid workers for years since the financial crisis, earnings for the bottom 25% of workers have been growing at a rate much faster than the national average, and weekly earnings for the bottom 10% of full-time workers have grown even faster, data shows.
  • Generally, rising wages would be seen as a negative for the industry, but coupled with stable gas prices, the increasing paychecks of low-wage workers means more money spent at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants.

Be smart: Goldman's research team estimates 70% of the industry's sales growth over the past 5 years can be explained by rising wages, lower gas prices and a boost from third-party apps like GrubHub and Uber Eats.

Go deeper: More than one-third of Americans report eating fast food every day

Go deeper

CDC director maintains Pfizer booster recommendation for high-risk workers

Rochelle Walensky listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C. on July 20. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky on Friday reiterated her decision to go against a recommendation by a CDC advisory panel that refused to endorse booster shots for workers whose jobs put them at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Driving the news: "Our healthcare systems are once again at maximum capacity in parts of the country, our teachers are facing uncertainty as they walk into the classroom," Walensky said at a Friday briefing. "I must do what I can to preserve the health across our nation."

Democrats release full text of Biden's $3.5T reconciliation package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday unveiled the full text of President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending package.

Why it matters: Democrats are racing to finish negotiations and get the bill on the floor as soon as possible so Pelosi can fulfill her promises to both House centrists and progressives about the timing and sequencing of passing the party's dual infrastructure packages.

Biden pushes massive economic plan despite "stalemate"

President Biden speaking from the White House on Sept. 24. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Friday urged congressional Democrats to overcome differences surrounding his multi-trillion-dollar economic proposal but said he's still confident it will pass.

Why it matters: It's currently unclear how the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package will move forward with moderate and progressive Democrats in disagreement over critical portions of the legislation.