According to The NPD Group, a leading market research company, foodservice across the globe experienced weak traffic and consumer spending for most of 2009, but saw some improvement in quick-service restaurant traffic in many countries in the last quarter of the year.

According to NPD’s Crest foodservice market research, which tracks commercial foodservice usage in Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, all of the countries it tracks ended 2009 with restaurant traffic down compared to year ending December 2008. Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States experienced the steepest traffic declines in 2009. In nearly every country, except the United States and Germany, eater checks fell as restaurants sought appealing price points and consumers managed their outlay on a case-by-case basis.

“No doubt 2009 was a very rough year for global foodservice, but we did see signs of improvement in the fourth quarter as the global economy and consumer confidence improved,” says Bob O’Brien, senior vice president of global foodservice at NPD. “We are still some way from a broadly healthy global foodservice industry.”

According to NPD’s Crest data, traffic at quick serves grew in Canada, Japan, and Italy during the fourth quarter of 2009. According to O’Brien, a return to quick serves, which historically lead the foodservice industry out of economic downturns, is both a sign of improvement and consumers “trading down” to a less expensive dining experience. Another area showing positive signs was traffic in the non-commercial segments, such as schools and business cafeterias, in Canada and Germany, indicating a sign of growth in employment and school enrollment.

“Consumer confidence in Canada has steadily increased over the past two quarters, up from the historical lows at the beginning of 2009,” says Robert Carter, NPD’s country manager for Canadian foodservice. “With increasingly positive economic conditions, Canadians are starting to feel as if the worst of the economic crises is behind them.”

France was among the countries showing some improvement in its foodservice traffic as a consequence of an improved economy.

“2009 marked the end of the recession in France, which started in the second quarter of ’09,” says Christine Tartanson, NPD’s country manager for France foodservice. “Visits to QSR are improving, and families increased their restaurant visits and supported an increase in weekend traffic (up 4 percent in 2009 versus 2008). However, lunch, the key daypart in the French industry, declined 8 percent for the year and no other dayparts did well enough to make up for this weakness.”

NPD began tracking foodservice in China in January 2009 and will have a year-to-year comparison beginning in the first quarter of 2010. According to NPD, the economy in China grew 8.7 percent in 2009 versus 2008 due to government and business investment, although there was a shift to growth in consumer spending in the fourth quarter. China’s improved economic environment resulted in a 3 percent increase in foodservice traffic in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter of last year.

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