Customer focussed food innovation

Customer focussed food innovation – how Food-to-Go brands are embracing sustainability to drive growth in France.

Food-to-Go (FTG) in France is undergoing a transformation that accelerated post COVID and has brought more focus on healthier, plant forward meals while leaving space for indulgent treats. Although packaging is a key enabler of FTG, truly sustainable options are yet to make an impact.

Leading brands seen in Paris are capturing new customers and meeting regulations with innovations in their food offers, waste prevention and social responsibility.

Food offers

Brands are demonstrating their values by sourcing responsibly – choosing local or national ingredients, considering animal welfare, promoting a diversity of raw materials – and presenting healthy options that are loaded with plants. Not forgetting that taste and freshness are key, as are variety and fun!

Provenance – brands show their commitment to origin with ingredients sourced in France and responsible farming. Several outlets use only organic and responsibly produced ingredients on key products for example, freshly pressed juices and coffee and free-range eggs at Cojean a small Parisian chain. Whole caged hen eggs are already banned in France and eggs as ingredients will likely follow.

The brand’s grains such as amaranth and quinoa, are produced in France to Haute Valeur Environmentale standards.

Plant rich – responding to demand for more plants whether for health or environment reasons, meals rich in plants (plant-loaded, vegetarian or vegan) are widely available in chains and independents.

For example, at Exki (a Belgian franchise) where the “vegetable is king”, vegetables, legumes and whole grains play the main role alongside dishes with tofu, seitan and some meat and dairy.

Vegetable biryani and butter aubergine are options in the national retailer Monoprix in-house Indian food brand alongside the in-house bistro brand offering French classics. Speaking to health, small pre-packed salads are offered alongside the main dish as part of a meal deal.

Less and better meat – certain meat-focussed brands take pride in quality, good animal welfare and environmental protection.

For example, Rôtisseur Stevenot (with 7 outlets) prioritises French free-range chicken, using the famous national brand Loué. Smells wafting from a rotisserie oven on the pavement lure customers in from around 11am and they choose from a range of salads and vegetables to accompany a portion of roasted chicken to go.

Ancient and whole grains – several artisan bakers offer ancient grain flours and baking methods and are part of a movement to revive traditional bread making which enables different flavours and nutrition. By creating a demand for these flours they increase the biodiversity of grains planted – a crucial aspect of resilient and sustainable food production.

For example, Boulangerie Liberté with 13 boutiques, values transparency and craftmanship and uses ancient grains to produce heavier northern European-style and sourdough breads. Room is made for indulgence with for example, the chocolate chip pavé.

Whole ancient grains also appear in lunch meals for example, salad bowls with quinoa, buckwheat and red rice (Exki), and pretty breakfast and dessert bowls with grains such as oats and chia (Cojean).

Variety – being inclusive of different tastes and satisfying a demand for a varied diet, several national cuisines such as Moroccan, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Japanese are represented alongside classic French dishes, often in the same outlet for example, Monop’ neighbourhood convenience store.

Fun and hybrid – made viral on TikTok early in 2024, the Paris-born Crookie joins the Melbourne created Cruffin in continuing the hybrid trend set off with the American Cronut in 2013. Although a fun way to attract customers, brands miss the opportunity to align their promotions with industry codes of conduct for responsible marketing, ensuring that such treats remain an occasional indulgence.

Preventing waste

Contributing 8% of carbon emissions globally, cutting food waste is an important goal of France’s 2016 food waste law and as a result has encouraged innovation.

Freshness technology – some operators use technology to keep food fresh for longer and prevent waste, for example, Exki, whose fridges with automatic glass door panels use less energy, keeping food fresh and safe, and preventing waste.

Valorising surplus food – brands like Maison Kayser make it easy to buy day old bread and pastries without damaging their core offer of freshly made products. They use attractive packaging, good signage and clear display near the cash desk.

In a different approach, Cojean redistributes all its unsold food to local organisations by bicycle at close of business.

Reusable, recyclable, compostable packaging – France’s progressive anti-waste law requires outlets offering take away to accept customers’ own containers and give a discount to those who bring their own drinking cups.

Packaging enables food-to-go, and plastic (recycled and/or recyclable) and fibre (recyclable or compostable) containers are common, also responding to legal requirements.

While reusables are the most sustainable packaging option, they are yet to make a significant impact.

By 2025, restaurants must offer recyclable or reusable containers for takeaway and  while they are available now, they are not widely used. However the city is actively supporting businesses to trial reusables and deposit schemes.


Social responsibility

Solidarity and inclusion – supporting communities connected with the brand is important for some organisations, as is hiring from disadvantaged or under-represented groups. Café Joyeux (19 city outlets nationally) is founded with this value in at its core and employs and invests in people with mental and cognitive disabilities. Cojean integrates people with disabilities into its workforce and its B Corp certification demonstrates the brand’s commitment to high standards in social and environmental responsibility.

The Opportunity

As consumers demand more sustainable food, they expect brands to make it easier for them to eat sustainably and without waste. Value-driven brands are entering the market and winning customers on this basis. Not only are their values aligned with a new generation of consumers, but their offers are delicious, healthy and sustainable. The FTG sector needs to change and support customers who want to make a difference to society and the planet through their food.

Recognising the innovation in other regions translates to an exciting opportunity for businesses elsewhere to innovate in their highly competitive markets and gain the trust of consumers.

Understanding the competitive landscape is critical to unlocking these opportunities through the identification of product or range gaps and marketing messages to resonate with consumers.

Prof. Provides Food Consulting Services for Your Business

As consumers and regulators drive change, Prof will continue to digest and provide our interpretation of the updates alongside the outlook and opportunity for growth.

In an increasingly competitive market, being prepared and innovative is essential. Understanding consumer desires, the competitive landscape and regulatory compliance, are key strategic notions to have considered.

Prof. Consulting Group

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