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    Restaurant Combo Meals Decline by One Billion Servings

    NPD: Consumer interest in smaller meals, better values are contributing factors.

    CHICAGO, Ill. -- Combo meals, the order-by-number bundled meals that make ordering easy for customers and yield larger orders for restaurant operators, are down about one billion servings since 2007. Smaller lunch and supper meals, more and better value offerings, price concerns and the composition of the meals are among the contributors to the decline, according to a new study from market research firm The NPD Group.

    Consumers purchased eight billion combo meals in the year ended January 2012, down more than 12 percent from the nine billion sold in the same period five years earlier, according to NPD's CREST, which continually tracks more than 400,000 consumer visits at commercial and non-commercial foodservice establishments each year. Still, 20 percent of all lunch and dinner visits include a combo meal, most of which are ordered at fast-food restaurants.

    "Operators can increase combo meal orders by enabling consumers to pick and choose side items and by offering more side options or rotating the meal options on a regular basis," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst. "Even with the combo meal decline, there is still a large group of consumers who would order the meals, which means there is an opportunity to renew their interest by giving them what they want."

    NPD's report, entitled "Understanding Combo Meal Purchase Behavior," examined why combo meals are declining and found that while consumer price concerns and value menus largely are perceived as driving the decline, the content of the meals also has caused consumers to cut back.

    For the report, NPD surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers who were buyers, lapsed buyers or non-buyers of combo meals. The research revealed that while consumers like that combo meals are easy to order, a good value and a complete meal, many said they would make changes to the contents of the meals, in particular, the side items.

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