Despite a continuously unpredictable global economy, there was a slight recovery for the global foodservice markets in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to market research company The NPD Group. Nearly all countries reported modest growth in foodservice consumer spending and traffic in Q4.

According to NPD's CREST, which tracks commercial foodservice usage in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, United Kingdom, and the U.S., China led the world with a 15 percent gain in foodservice visits and a 22 percent increase in spending over the same quarter last year.

Canada posted the fastest growth rate among developed markets with a 3 percent increase in visits while Germany, with the most robust economy, grew slightly less than Canada, due to an increase in checks.

"Economic conditions in Canada didn't do much to strengthen the environment for foodservice during the fall period, but as is often the case, foodservice begins to improve prior to any economic recovery," said Robert Carter, executive director, Canada foodservice. "Canada's foodservice industry posted a strong fourth quarter performance in 2011 with a 4 percent growth in spending and a 3 percent increase in visits. Canadians now visits restaurants over 6.6 billion times a year and spending has reached an all-time high of $47.6 billion."

According to NPD, chains continue to grow outside of Spain and Italy while the health of independents was stronger than in the third quarter.

The global recovery continues to be led by the quick-service segment with the burger category being the only category that grew in every country around the world. The lunch and dinner dayparts, both a bit more positive than in prior quarters, are helping to lift traffic in most markets.

"The broad-based increases in traffic counts represent a continuation of the trends we've seen over the past quarters," said Bob O'Brien, senior vice president of global foodservice at NPD. "More foodservice visits on top of check boosts are driving the growth in consumer spending, which gives us some hope that a global recovery is underway."

NPD CREST is currently piloting a foodservice usage tracking program in Mexico and will issue a report mid-year. In addition, NPD's Food and Beverage Unit is planning an overview study of in- and away-from-home food and beverage consumption habits in Brazil, Russia, Mexico, India and China, and will release the findings in a report expected to be published late fall.

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