Among the effects of the worldwide economic downturn was fewer visits to foodservice outlets across the globe, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company.

NPD reports that the last half of 2008 was particularly weak for global foodservice traffic; largely due to a sharp drop in demand in the fourth quarter.

According to NPD’s CREST, which tracks commercial foodservice usage in France, Germany, Japan, Spain, U.K., Italy, U.S., and Canada, and now China, restaurant traffic counts declined in Japan and across Europe. Italy and Spain had relatively steep traffic declines, and the United States, compared to other countries was relatively resilient and ended the year slightly up from prior year. Canada is an exception to the lackluster year for the global foodservice market. Consumer spending at Canadian restaurants, driven by both traffic and average eater check, grew in 2008.

“While deals and promotions helped drive the small traffic growth at U.S. restaurants in 2008, such value-oriented practices are largely unfamiliar in other countries,” says Bob O’Brien, senior vice president of global foodservice at NPD.

“Instead, other countries are much more aggressive with product variety as an enticement to visit.”

Broken down by restaurant segments, such as quick-service, full-service, and retail outlets, traffic to quick-service restaurants fared well in most countries, but was strongest in Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Japan where quick service is a small part of the Japanese foodservice market.

“The global foodservice market in 2008 mirrored the economic downturn throughout most parts of the world, but there were positive areas too” says O’Brien. “Foodservice operators and manufacturers need to get organized around the positive areas and have a solid understanding of what will drive growth as we emerge from today’s weaknesses.

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