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Consumer Trends

Global restaurant scene leaves U.S. market in the dust

Although overseas expansion rates have slowed, the global foodservice market is still growing at a clip that makes the U.S. piece of the business look like a minivan chasing a Maserati, according to a just-released snapshot.

Overall, global sales are increasing at an annual pace of 5.6%, compared with the U.S. rate of 3.4%, according to the study, conducted by Technomic for The Coca-Cola Co. and presented at the Global Restaurant Leadership Conference this week.  The figures are nominal and not adjusted for inflation.

The researcher pegged the current size of the international foodservice market—U.S. sales included—at $3 trillion, of which the American market contributes about $872 billion. Nearly two-thirds of that amount, or 60%, is generated by restaurants, with the remainder coming largely from so-called noncommercial facilities.

The figures verify that the U.S. remains the globe’s biggest restaurant market in terms of sales, outstripping China’s $624 billion in annual intake. But Technomic noted that China’s restaurant revenues are surging at the rate of 10.9% per year, the highest in the world by far.

It already sports more restaurants than any other nation, with nearly 9 million outlets.

Many of the trends driving U.S. sales are also boosting business abroad, according to the picture presented by Technomic. Delivery and takeout, for instance, are universal phenomena, noted Joe Pawlak, a managing principal of the research company. On a global basis, “dine-in visits are the minority,” he said.  The one exception to that new world order among the major markets tracked by Technomic is France, where dining in a restaurant is an entrenched part of the culture.

Similarly, from the North Pole to Antarctica, “the availability of healthy items is becoming as important as affordability and variety,” said co-presenter David Henkes, Technomic’s senior principal. Globally, 69% of consumers cited the availability of healthy options as being a very important factor in choosing where to buy a meal.

Henkes stressed that the sensitivity is now literally universal; in every market monitored by Technomic, more than half the consumers spoke of being profoundly influenced in their choice of restaurants by health considerations.

And that quest isn’t just for healthful food options, Henkes added. “Consumers are asking for better-for-you beverages, and what they’re asking for is changing,” he said.

Henkes explained that the definition of “healthy” continues to evolve.  “We asked consumers what healthy actually means,” he said. “The No. 1 attribute among the consumers that we surveyed was ‘natural.’ Forty-four percent of consumers say that is the leading way to define healthy.”

Another universal sales driver is snacking, Pawlak observed. “In all countries save two, over 70% of consumers snack daily,” he revealed.

The exceptions: China, where three-meal-a-day dining is still the dominant pattern, and France, where eating is regarded as a celebration best reserved for a full meal.

The Global Restaurant Leadership Conference drew some 1,233 restaurant leaders from around the world to Dubai for three days of discussions on tomorrow’s opportunities. The conference is presented by Winsight, the parent company of Technomic and Restaurant Business.

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