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Morning Meal Traffic Helps Drive Restaurant Industry Growth

Though total restaurant industry traffic was flat in the first quarter of 2016 compared to last year, the morning meal — breakfast and a.m. snack — continues to fuel the industry's visit growth. During the first quarter of 2016, total industry morning meal visits increased by 2 percent compared to the same period last year, according to The NPD Group. Quick-service restaurants experienced a 4 percent uptick in morning meal visits. Servings of breakfast foods increased by 8 percent, and breakfast sandwiches and other breakfast items topped the industry list of growing foods.

In addition, restaurant visits motivated by a deal increased 2 percent for total industry and up 3 percent at QSRs, NPD reports. The market research firm attributes much of the deal traffic increase to the combo meal "value wars" among the major QSR hamburger chains. Combo meal visits to traditional QSRs increased by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2016, and helped improve QSR hamburger visits overall. The average deal rate (percent of visits where an item was purchased on a deal) for QSRs is 26 percent. The average deal rate for the burger chains offering the combo meal value deals is 35 percent, according to NPD.

It was interesting to note customer traffic growth among fast-casual operators was flat in the winter quarter, per NPD. This was a departure from the strong traffic growth fast-casual chains had experienced over the last several years. Chipotle's recent food safety issues contributed to the slowdown in the last two quarters, NPD reports. Taking Chipotle out of the equation finds fast casual visits up 5 percent, NPD added.