RESTAURANTS SEE GROWTH DESPITE CHALLENGES

WASHINGTON -- The restaurant industry anticipates that 2005 will mark its 14th consecutive year of real growth, with sales increasing $22.3 billion to $476 billion, said executives from the National Restaurant Association here in their annual "Restaurant Industry Forecast."Quick-service restaurants are expected to grow 2%, from $128 to $134 billion in sales. Despite challenges posed by competition,

WASHINGTON -- The restaurant industry anticipates that 2005 will mark its 14th consecutive year of real growth, with sales increasing $22.3 billion to $476 billion, said executives from the National Restaurant Association here in their annual "Restaurant Industry Forecast."

Quick-service restaurants are expected to grow 2%, from $128 to $134 billion in sales. Despite challenges posed by competition, food costs and the economy, 75% of respondents expected 2005 to be a significantly better year for business.

The survey also pointed out several key menu trends. More than 40% of respondents from the family, casual and fine-dining sectors said their customers were buying more organic items, local foods and produce, beef and entree salads than two years ago.

Respondents also indicated U.S. palates were becoming more sophisticated, with items such as chilies, hot pepper sauces, pita and focaccia breads, sushi, hummus and empanadas growing in popularity.

The positive prediction came despite a forecast of more moderate growth of both the U.S. gross domestic product and real disposable income among consumers. Wholesale food prices were also expected to increase at a slower rate than 2004.