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    NPD: Fast Food Endures First Traffic Decline Since 2003

    Overall foodservice industry suffers a second quarter of negative customer counts.

    LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. fast food industry posted a 1 percent year-over-year drop in traffic during the quarter that ended in February—its first venture into negative territory since the same quarter in 2003, Reuters reported, citing a new study from market research firm NPD Group.

    Fast-food chains, with their expanding menus of food items for around $1, generally have been the most insulated from the current recession, which has forced cash-crunched diners to eat more at home or trade down to lower-priced eateries, the report stated.

    NPD’s most recent Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends (CREST) showed that the overall foodservice industry suffered a 1.5 percent fall in traffic during the quarter that ended in February—its second consecutive quarter of negative customer counts—as mounting job losses put a dent in weekday lunch and dinner visits.

    NPD did not comment on the performance of specific companies, but said convenience stores, bakeries, Mexican food restaurants and sandwich sellers were the best performers in the quick-service restaurant category during the quarter, Reuters reported.

    The hamburger segment was flat, while purveyors of chicken, gourmet coffee and tea, and pizza each saw traffic drop 9 percent, 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

    "There are still restaurants attracting more consumers, but more are losing them than gaining," said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD Group.

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