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France’s Affair with American Fast Food: An Unexpected Love Story

by Nick

In a nation renowned for its culinary finesse, where Michelin stars adorn eateries and gastronomic standards reign supreme, an unlikely favorite has emerged: American fast food.

Recent data from market research firm Euromonitor International reveals that in 2023, France secured the third position in Europe for fast-food sales, amounting to a staggering 19 billion euros.

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Xavier Expilly, president and founder of consulting firm EXPM, attributes this phenomenon to a burgeoning appetite for the American lifestyle in France. Having overseen Popeyes’ successful entry into the French market, Expilly highlights the iconic products of American brands like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Popeyes, which have left a lasting imprint on French consumers.

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Expilly notes, “American enterprises were the pioneers in introducing these iconic products, and the French audience is eager to explore diverse culinary experiences, especially when accompanied by a compelling narrative.”

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Burgers reign supreme as the most sought-after fast-food item globally, closely followed by chicken, snacks, pizza, and sandwiches, according to IBISWorld. This trend holds true in France, where burger-centric quick-service restaurants (QSRs) command a significant share of the market, accounting for 47% of total QSR sales in 2023, equivalent to 9.1 billion euros.

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McDonald’s, with its establishment in the Parisian suburb of Créteil in 1972, holds a dominant position in the French market, boasting over 1,500 outlets as of March 2024. Its enduring success has inspired other QSRs to venture into the French market, viewing it as a lucrative opportunity for expansion.

Andrew Charles, a managing director and senior restaurant analyst at TD Cowen, observes, “France emerged as McDonald’s second-largest market after the U.S., prompting other international QSRs to explore similar avenues for growth.”

Burger King, in particular, re-entered the French market in 2012 after a 15-year hiatus, capitalizing on the French affinity for American quick-service foods. Despite stiff competition from chains like KFC, Domino’s Pizza, and Subway, Burger King has secured a notable position, reflecting the evolving tastes of French consumers.

In 2024, McDonald’s and Burger King collectively command over 40% of the market share in France, marking it as their most significant market outside the U.S. Beyond strategic marketing tactics, QSRs have adapted to the evolving needs of French society, prioritizing convenience and affordability amidst shrinking lunch breaks and economic challenges.

Joel Tissier, CEO of Domino’s Pizza France, emphasizes the importance of embracing digitization and delivery services, which have become integral in meeting consumer demands, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Despite initial setbacks in 2020, the QSR industry in France has demonstrated resilience, outperforming pre-pandemic profits by 2021.

While cafes, bars, and full-service restaurants continue to grapple with recovery, QSRs have emerged as frontrunners in catering to the evolving preferences of French diners, epitomizing the fusion of American fast food with French culinary culture.

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