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NRA: Sales growth to slow in ’08

WASHINGTON Foodservice sales in the United States will grow at a slower rate of 4.4 percent during 2008, or just under 1 percent in inflation-adjusted or “real” terms, the National Restaurant Association forecast in its comprehensive outlook for the year ahead, released here this morning. That predicted rate would fall well below the association’s projected 2007 real growth of 2.1 percent, and the 3.5-point gap between the real and nominal figures for 2008 — a discrepancy usually attributed to menu price increases — underscores the cost pressures that are expected to eat into margins despite the price hikes.

Nonetheless, the increase forecast by the NRA would raise total U.S. foodservice sales to $558.32 billion, a $23.6 billion rise from the projected ’07 tally. Association officials often point out that the industry’s nominal sales increase is usually larger than the total intake of many major U.S. industries.

Total food and beverage sales from restaurants, including full-service, quick-service and snack and beverage locations, are projected to increase 0.8 percent on a real basis.

The segments that are expected to outpace the industry’s overall growth include social caterers, with a forecast real growth rate of 3 percent. The snack and non-alcoholic beverage category, a classification that includes Starbucks, is forecast to record a gain of 3.2 percent.

At the other extreme, sales are expected to decline at cafeterias, grill-buffets and buffets, and bars and taverns.

Full-service restaurants, which form the largest segment in foodservice, are expected to split real sales growth of 0.7 percent, for a sector total of $187.41 billion. Quick-service restaurants are estimated to post a sales increase of 0.8 percent to $156.83 billion.

As in previous years, Nevada is the state with the largest growth projection, as sales are expected to increase by 6.5 percent from 2007, to about $4.27 billion. The state with the largest total sales tally continues to be California, with 2008 projected restaurant food and beverage sales of $56.37 billion.

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