Combo meals, the order-by-number bundled meals that make ordering easy for customers and yielded larger orders for restaurant operators, are down about one billion servings since 2007, according to research by The NPD Group, a leading market research firm.

A recently released NPD foodservice market research report finds that smaller lunch and supper meals, more and better value offerings, price concerns, and composition of meal are among the contributors to combo meal declines.

Consumers purchased 8 billion combo meals in the year ended January 2012, down more than 12 percent from the 9 billion sold in the same period five years earlier, according to NPD’s CREST, which continually tracks more than 400,000 consumer visits at commercial and non-commercial foodservice establishments a year.  

But while combo-meal orders, most of which are ordered at fast-food restaurants, declined significantly during that period, 20 percent of all lunch and dinner visits still include a combo meal, reports CREST.

NPD’s report entitled “Understanding Combo Meal Purchase Behavior,” which examines why combo meals are declining, finds that while consumer price concerns and value menus largely are perceived as driving the decline, the content of the meals has also caused consumers to cut back.

For the report, NPD surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers who were buyers, lapsed buyers, or non-buyers of combo meals. The study found that while consumers like that combo meals are easy to order, a good value, and a complete meal, many said they would make changes to the contents of the meals—in particular, the side items.

“Operators can increase combo meal orders by enabling consumers to pick and choose side items and by offering more side options or rotating the meal options on a regular basis,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst.  “Even with the combo meal decline, there is still a large group of consumers who would order the meals, which means there is an opportunity to renew their interest by giving them what they want.” 

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