The strength and marketing clout of major and small restaurant chains kept total restaurant industry traffic flat instead of declining in the April/May/June quarter, while visits to independent restaurants declined by 2 percent, reports The NPD Group, a global information company. Visits to major restaurant chains (500-plus units) remained flat in the second calendar quarter compared with the same quarter a year ago, and small restaurant chain (three to 49 units) traffic increased by 2 percent, according to NPD foodservice market research. 

Chains outperformed independents (one to two units) over the short- and long-term the past five years, reports NPD’s CREST research, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants and foodservice outlets. Major restaurant chains, which represent 64 percent of total industry traffic, have increased visits 1 percent since the quarter ending June 2010. Traffic to small chains, which represent 11 percent of industry traffic, netted flat over the past five years based on quarters ending June. Independents, which now represent 25 percent of foodservice visits versus 28 percent in 2010, saw visit losses of 2 percent since 2010. 

The quick-service restaurant segment, which overall holds the majority share (79 percent) of foodservice industry traffic, is heavily skewed toward chains. Visits to quick-service chain restaurants (major and small) were up 1 percent, respectively, in the second quarter ending June 2014. Independent quick-serve traffic was down 2 percent in the quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

Total independent restaurants outnumber chain restaurants in terms of unit count. Based on NPD’s most recent ReCount restaurant census (spring 2014) there were 351,359 independent restaurants in the U.S., a 0.4 percent increase of the prior year census. Chain restaurant units stood at 284,135, which is up 1 percent compared with last year’s census.

“Independents simply don’t have the resources and marketing power, and often not the business acumen, of chains,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “However, many independents do succeed by providing the food quality and experience consumers are looking for and by building a loyal customer base.” 

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