The growth in the breakfast market - products such as cereal, muesli, French toasts, Swedish crispbread etc. but not traditional patisseries such as croissants - is being driven by an increasingly vociferous healthy eating message.
The message - that starting off the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast is the best way to avoid health problems such as obesity - has been promoted by both the French government (keen to keep health costs down) and the industry (in a bid to boost sales), and it certainly appears to be getting through.
A report from French market analysts Xerfi shows that sales of breakfast cereal products rose by 3 per cent in value terms last year on the back of a real sae change in consumer attitudes -playschools and crèches have stopped serving the traditional 10am snack to children in a bid to combat the problem of obesity, the report claims.
That said, a closer look at the figures suggests that the healthy breakfast message may not be entirely understood - while sales healthy cereals registered a 20.4 per cent value increase in the year to March 2004, it was the far less healthy chocolate cereals targeted at children which showed the most spectacular growth - 35.7 per cent on the previous year, according to the Xerfi report.
Combined with 18 per cent growth for other, sugary cereals, the children's market saw growth in excess of 50 per cent year-on-year, showing that while more young French people may be eating breakfast cereals than ever before, they have not lost the love of chocolate and sugar which has done so much to keep the patisserie industry in business for centuries.
Yet Xerfi suggests that parents remain extremely concerned about their children's diets, and pay close attention to what they eat at breakfast time, not least because of the growing understanding that a nutritious start to the day could improve their kids' performance at school.
So why do the figures suggest that French children are eating far more chocolaty, sugary cereals than ever before? The answer, as with many items targeted at children, lies in the image of the product and the way it is marketed.
Children and adolescents remain highly trend-driven, making them one of the most fickle segments of society to market products to. Breakfast cereal makers are no different than other manufacturers targeting kids and have focused on high profile promotions and a rapid rate of innovation to keep children interested.
But their marketing efforts are also increasingly employing other tactics, playing on the relative healthiness of cereal of all kinds - including the energy-giving properties of chocolate and sugar, in moderation, and the benefits of additional calcium from the milk with which the cereals are served.
Despite the excellent growth in chocolate cereals, Xerfi suggests that the real success story is indeed the healthy cereal sector, where the majority of new product launches have taken place. Here, too, the launches have catered to the well-documented French tastes for chocolate, with products such as Kellogg's Special K and All-Bran and Nestlé's Fitness all launched in chocolate versions during the year.
So what of other breakfast products - biscottes, French toast, crispbreads, etc? In a clear indication that the low-carb Atkins-led diet has yet to reach French shores, Xerfi's report showed strong gains in value sales of many grain-based products in this sector, in particular biscottes which registered a 27.9 per cent increase.
But the market as a whole remained stable, with value sales unchanged from the year before as volumes dropped by 3.5 per cent. These dry products still remain the most common on French breakfast tables, but have seen their market share eroded by both breakfast cereals and more 'international' products such as pre-packaged sliced bread.
The industry has not taken this decline lying down, negotiating greater shelf space in supermarkets, increasing its advertising budgets (and notably playing on many of the same health and energy themes as the cereals) and launching a raft of new products, but this has still only allowed it to tread water.
Indeed, Xerfi sees little future growth for this category as a whole, despite the relatively healthy image of almost all the products within it. The problem is that these biscuit/toast-based products are seen as old-fashioned, harking back to the rapidly-disappearing days of family breakfasts where they were dipped into enormous cups of coffee or hot chocolate.
As the pace of French life quickens, and consumption habits with them, the relatively healthy image of biscottes will not be enough to drive overall category growth, with consumers also seeking convenience, innovation and pleasure at breakfast time.