Is France Turning the Corner?

France

More adventurous palates, added to greater demand for premium foods, suggest the sluggish performance of the French frozen foods industry could be ending, reports Jonathan Thomas

In recent years, the French frozen foods market has grown at a rather modest rate, of less than 2% per annum. The category is large and mature, with per capita consumption currently amounting to 37 kg and facing ongoing competition from chilled foods. However, the frozen market appears well-positioned to capitalize in the changing taste trends currently taking place amongst the French population, which help to revitalize it. One of the most notable to have occurred of late has been falling demand for baguettes. Although an estimated 10 billion baguettes are consumed every year in France, sales have dropped in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to the declining popularity of bread, with per capita consumption having shrunk from almost 55 kg in the early years of the new millennium to 44 kg in 2015. Although baguettes still account for 70% of overall bread consumption in France, average prices have increased and the sector has suffered from the declining number of traditional French bakeries.

Competition for baguettes has also increased from sectors of the frozen and chilled foods industries. French consumers ate an estimated 819 million pizzas in 2015, a figure which includes products sold via both supermarkets and pizzerias. This figure was up by 1.5% from the previous year, with the frozen sector alone valued at approximately EUR300m. Pizzas appeal to younger time-pressed consumers, and the fact that healthier lines such as gluten-free have appeared suggests that scope for future innovation remains considerable. However, French consumers are still loyal to traditional toppings, i.e. margherita and Reine (tomato sauce, cheese, ham and mushrooms).

French consumers are also displaying a greater appetite for ready meals and dishes made to foreign recipes. Ethnic-inspired products continue to capture an increasing share of the French ready meals market – for example, the Nom Noms brand of healthy Indian dishes from the UK has rapidly gained a following amongst French consumers. Furthermore, a recent survey from Madame Figaro magazine found that 87% of French adults regularly cooked Italian food at home, a figure which compares with 40% for Chinese cuisine. The popularity of European dishes such as lasagne and paella can be further illustrated by the fact that French imports of ready meals are worth EUR500m per year, most of which come from countries such as Italy, Germany and the Benelux nations.

Another cuisine which has grown in popularity in France is Japanese, a sector worth an estimated EUR47m at present. Part of this growth has been due to the arrival in the frozen ready meals market of the Japanese firm Ajinomoto, which acquired Labeyrie Traiteur Surgeles (LTS) in the summer of 2017 for EUR27m. Following the deal, Ajinomoto intends to utilize LTS’s distribution channels to expand consumer exposure to its range of Japanese foods. Elsewhere, French consumers are also displaying a preference for sushi, mainly due to greater appreciation of its health and nutritional benefits.

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