International restaurant traffic was mixed during the third quarter of 2011 as low consumer confidence and global economic troubles kept guest counts weak or negative everywhere but China, according to The NPD Group.
The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm found that only Canada, France, Italy and China increased guest counts for the three months ended in September 2011, compared with a year earlier.
According to NPD’s CREST service, which tracks foodservice traffic and spending in 10 countries, China grew its traffic 18.7 percent in the third quarter, compared with a year earlier. Canada and France, which have benefited from relatively stable economies over the past few years, increased their guest counts during the quarter by 2.7 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.
Although Italy faced its own financial crisis in 2011, it nevertheless experienced an uptick in traffic, with a 1.3-percent lift in guest counts. However, the average check for the Italian restaurant industry fell 0.8 percent during the quarter.
“There still is a mixed bag of health and weakness across the global foodservice industry,” said Bob O’Brien, NPD’s senior vice president of global foodservice. “While a few of the countries we track posted traffic gains, the news for the third quarter of this year remains disappointing.”
The United Kingdom had slightly negative restaurant traffic during the quarter, with a 0.4-percent decline, followed by the United States and Germany, both of which recorded 0.6-percent decreases in guest counts.
Australia’s traffic fell 1.3 percent despite positive economic growth in the third quarter, while Japan’s guest counts decreased 3.3 percent as the country continued to recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Spain’s restaurant industry suffered the largest decline in guest counts — 4.6 percent compared with a year earlier — due to prolonged economic weakness.
NPD reported that lunch traffic appeared to increase in many of the stronger economies during the period, while breakfast continued to grow and dinner guest counts improved in most markets. Many restaurant visitors seemed to be motivated by promotions and discounting, NPD said.
Even the fast-growing China market began to face some challenges in the third quarter, NPD found. The firm reported that consumer confidence was not as strong as reported in the third quarter of 2010.
“Chinese consumers have become more careful about spending their money on foodservice visiting,” said Christina Ma, NPD’s director of China foodservice. “They are increasingly selecting inexpensive foodservice channels, such as bakery, coffee shop and retail, and are ordering [fewer] food and beverage items.”