France as a fast food nation

McDonald's new French menu will not save it from lawmakers – especially as it has more calories than ever

14 February 2013
By

FAST-FOOD giant McDonald’s aims to seduce further the French market with the launch of a range of “Frenchstyle” sandwiches – all of which have more calories than a Big Mac.

It comes as Food Minister Guillaume Garot prepares to speak to the food industry in a bid to find ways to help people avoid fattening foods - and reduce France’s growing obesity levels.

A traffic light scheme with green for non-fattening foods is one proposal. McDonald's has 1,200 branches in France (home-grown European rival Quick has around 400) and wants to consolidate its dominant position but could run foul of ministers who reacted with alarm to a study showing obesity has doubled in 15 years.

New menu

Its new casse-croûte menu comes after the chain experimented last year with “McBaguettes” – burgers inside French stick-style bread – and the range will have a version of the classic jambon-fromage (ham and cheese), the most popular snack in France.

Costing €4.50 with a medium-sized drink, it has ham, Emmental, white sauce and hash browns. There is also seasoned beef with “oriental” sauce and “crunchy chicken” with pepper sauce.

A Camembert sandwich is also planned later this year.

Global rival Burger King recently made a successful come-back to France after 15 years away with a new outlet at Marseille-Provence airport. Selling around 2,000 meals a day, it has seen such demand that it was forced to close for a few hours at one point because it ran out of stock.

Fans, who have been making special trips to the airport to eat, claim its “double whopper” is the “Rolls-Royce of burgers in France”.

But while fast food demand seems unending, Mr Garot is to hold a first meeting early this month to look at ideas to conquer obesity including the traffic light system.

A spokesman said: “A working group will get together in the first week of February with people from the Agriculture Ministry and from the big French food groups to decide what means will be put into action to fight obesity and improve the nutritional quality of our products.”

Fat study

It came after a government-backed study, ObEpi, found obesity had doubled in 15 years, with the trend growing fastest among the young – 35% more 18-24-year-olds were obese in 2012 than in 2009.

While Mireille Guiliano says French Women Don’t Get Fat in her book, the study showed that women are more obese than men in every age range except the over-65s.

The results come despite a Sarkozy government Obesity Plan 2010-13, where he “wanted France to make a bold commitment to prevention and improve treatment of obesity”.

Fuelling concerns is a study from New-Zealand, where researchers found eating fast food more than three times a week makes children more vulnerable to debilitating health conditions including asthma, rhinitis and eczema.

Fast food is also coming under attack with the rise of the slow-food movement and others, such as Michelin three-star Japanese chef Yoshihiro Murata, saying it was “polluting” tastes in his home country.

In the US, Coca-Cola – often accused of contributing to weight problems there – has decided to play the honesty card, launching adverts which remind people of the calories in the drink (140 per full-calorie can), suggesting that people should “have fun while burning them”.

McDonald’s, too, is reacting. It has put calorie counts on US menus. That may not help French waistlines. But even if doctors say a third are too fat they still have a long way to go to catch the “Anglo-Saxons”, who are among the world’s heavyweights. Just 15% of French over-18s are considered clinically obese, this compares to 26% of English people (2010 figures) and 36% in America (2012 figures, taking “adults” as over-20s).

Market

FRANCE has been the largest McDo market outside the US for several years – said to be because people sit down for more than one course.

The chain has suffered from accusations of American cultural imperialism and bringing in malbouffe (junk food) and has reacted by trying to gain a French accent as it has previously tried crunchy goat’s cheese salad, a McCantal cheeseburger and Charolais beef burgers. It is paying off as it opened 41 restaurants last year and plans another 44 this year, with the Casse-Croûte range being part of its strategy to increase its appeal.

At the launch, McDonald’s France executive Nawfal Trabelsi told Le Figaro: “We had to wait to have legitimacy in France before we could offer such a product. For around a decade now we’ve been moving towards a more French-style McDo.”

The baguette trial was popular – chosen by one in three diners – and a miniature version, Petit McBaguette, joined menus at the end of 2012. With the three new sandwiches amounting to 565 calories (ham), 605 (beef) and 719 (chicken), or 895 for the latter with a medium Coca-Cola, they are fairly hefty “snacks” – more calorific than a Big Mac (510), although that usually comes with a side portion of chips. It is experimenting in other markets, too, with a burger in a pretzel bun in Germany and a yin and yang duo of burgers in China.

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