October 26/Chicago/NPD Group -- The NPD Group finds tap water is one of the fastest growing beverages ordered at U.S. restaurants, while revenue-generating beverages have been declining over the past five years.

Currently, tap water servings represent 8% of the 50 billion beverage servings ordered at restaurants, according to NPD's CREST service, which continually tracks consumer use of restaurants. Within the past five years, restaurant traffic has dropped 1%, and total beverage servings, excluding tap water, have experienced a 6% drop, a decline of 2.7 billion servings, according to NPD's report "Beverages at Foodservice: Satisfying Our Thirst for Beverages."

Tap water servings have increased by 2.8 billion servings since 2006. The report, which includes a survey of 5,500 adults 18 years and older, finds that the decline in beverage orders at restaurants is driven by the largest categories -- carbonated soft drinks and brewed coffee -- which represent 49% of all beverage servings.

"Although the economy and high unemployment are factors in tap water's upswing and beverage servings declines, some beverages, like carbonated soft drinks were declining prior to the recession," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst and author of the report. "A key learning from this report is that much of the declines in beverage servings are tied to the price/value relationship the consumer perceives."

Consumers cited cost as one of their reasons for not ordering carbonated soft drinks and other non-growth beverages.

"Some declining beverages will fare better as the economy recovers, but beverage providers will need to address consumers' concerns and poor value perceptions to stem further losses," Riggs said.

Still, there is a category bright spot as iced tea, smoothies, iced/frozen/slushy drinks and specialty coffee drinks have experienced growth.

"Not all beverages are on the decline. New flavors, addressing taste interests, preparing fresh/freshly made, and creating new versions of existing beverages are factors in the beverages that are growing," Riggs said.

 From the October 27, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.