The French sandwich market is in full flight, reaping €6.1bn in sales in 2008 on growth of 11 per cent, finds trend trackers Gira Conseil, with the popularity of the baguette far from unerring.
After growing at between 5 and 8 per cent in volume from 2003 and 2007, last year's figures represent an explosion in demand for sandwiches from low cost to premium.
"The sandwich offer has a much clearer distinction than in previous years, with all prices now represented on the shelves - a phenomenon that has satisfied consumer demand," Bernard Boutboul, managing director of Gira Conseil told a conference audience at last week's European sandwich show in Paris.
The French chomped their way through approximately 1.8 billion sandwiches last year, paying an average price of €3.39.
And while the boost in consumption is linked to today's full range of price to suit consumer demand, in recent years the variety of sandwiches on offer has also improved, from the variety and quality of the bread to better quality and variety of fillings, as well as a nod towards health.
But the French taste in sandwiches is still "very traditional", say the market analysts.
They claim that two out of three sandwiches bought in 2008 were cheese and/or charcuterie.
Further, demand for baguette-style sandwiches prevails, accounting for 1.15 billion sandwiches sold in the hexagon.
Nomads versus seats
Curiously, whereas the Anglo-Saxons opt to walk and consume, labelled as 'food nomads' by Gira Conseil, the French do not "above all" wish to eat and drink while moving.
Even for a sandwich, "they systematically look for a place where they can sit down and eat," say the market analysts.
And while the French are looking to eat their sandwich snack sitting down, they are, in parallel, turning away from waitress-served restaurants. According to the Gira data, today two out of three French people no long eat lunch with table service.
Reflecting eating patterns elsewhere in Europe, while in recent times a large slice of the working population would return home for lunch, today the landscape has reversed. In Paris, for example, only 0.6 per cent of the population return home, a considerable fall from 5 per cent in 2000.
Explosive growth for industrial sandwiches
Cafes, sandwich shops and brasseries still make up the largest slice of the sandwich market, representing about 58 per cent of the total sales.
But, whereas historically French consumers ate their sandwich at the cafe on the corner, today the landscape has shifted, with shops, service stations and supermarkets now accounting for one in four sandwiches sold, representing about 28 per cent of the market.
"Industrial sandwiches are carving a place in the market thanks to dynamic suppliers - such as Sodebo and Daunat - that offer a diverse choice," added Gira Conseil.
Boulangeries and delicatessens account for about 14 per cent of the €6.1bn market.
But the analysts predict that artisan sandwiches will enjoy growth in forthcoming years as consumers increasingly hunt out "quality and pleasure".
Change in French snacking attitude engenders growth
According to the French trend trackers, once deigned to be negative, a shift has occurred in France, with consumers no longer viewing snacks as an unhealthy option.
"To eat well for the Americans is to eat healthily, this is the same for the French, but also involves pleasure, sharing and time spent at the table" claims Gira Conseil.
The analysts predict "an explosive" market for snacks in France, and one expected to enjoy double-digit growth in the next few years.