CHICAGO — Fewer visits to foodservice outlets throughout the world were made during the second half of 2008 due to the worldwide economic downturn, The NPD Group relays. The last half of 2008 was particularly weak primarily due to a sharp drop in fourth-quarter demand.

Restaurant traffic counts declined in Japan and throughout Europe, according to NPD’s CREST, which tracks commercial foodservice usage in France, Germany, Japan, Spain, U.K., Italy, U.S., Canada and China, Italy and Spain, in particular, had relatively steep traffic declines, and the U.S., 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, actually increased 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, NPD’s senior vice-president of global foodservice. "Instead, other countries are much more aggressive with product variety as an enticement to visit."

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" said 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."