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Falling OOH visits could be sign of recession

Total visits in the eat-out or out-of-home (OOH) foodservice market dropped 1% in the first quarter of the year against the same period last year, according to the NPD Group.

The fall, equivalent to 28 million visits, represents a “warning sign” and companies must “be on the alert” for a possible recession.

In the 2007/2008 recession, consumers very quickly changed their consumption behaviour, resulting in a decline of 510 million OOH visits annually by 2010. And the market still hasn’t fully recovered – visits are still 370 million short of 2008.

Eat-out visits began to slow down after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and from the second half of 2017 the market started to lose visits after four years of growth.

This trend has accelerated since the start of 2018 and now is the right time to sound a warning, said NPD’s head of foodservice Cyril Lavenant. Indeed, dinner has been in decline for years, but now lunch and breakfast visits are falling too.

“Although it is too soon to say whether we are currently in recession or not, there are clear warning signs,” Lavenant explained.

Any sustained downturn would be more difficult to overcome, he added, given that casual dining is facing pressure from quick-service brands with new food choices and newly refurbished modern outlets.

Consumers also have a bigger choice than ever of operators offering healthier and lighter eating, he explained. This makes it “likely that any new recession in foodservice will be harder to fight because the landscape is already intensely competitive”.