Finding vegetarian products in France

Why are vegetarian products hard to find in French supermarkets? They do not seem to have dedicated vegetarian sections like in the UK. C.A.

2 March 2017
By Oliver Rowland

There are several likely reasons for the fact that French supermarkets typically do not have dedicated vegetarian sections.

Firstly, France has traditionally been a country of meat-eaters and has not catered well for vegetarians. However, this is starting to change.

Secondly, vegetarian products are traditionally most likely to be found in an organic/healthfood section, often labelled bio (organic) – which is often a good starting point for looking for them.

Thirdly, an increasing amount of French people are interested in simply cutting down on meat consumption.

Jean-Benoît Robert, a spokesman for the Association Végétarienne de France, said this is probably the reason for such surprising – to Britons – strategies such as Carrefour placing Quorn products in the meat section. “People are eating much more vegetable-based food.

Another result is that lots of vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been opening – about one every two months in Paris.

“There’s now a whole district in the 9th and 10th arrondissement known as ‘veggietown’, due to all the restaurants and shops, such as the Biocoop Dada, which is the most ‘vegetarian’ in the chain. [See vegetarisme.fr/veggietown-a-paris/].

“However, above all there is now more food aimed at not just vegetarians but the ‘veggie-curious’. One result is that they place vegetarian foods among other ones. And the chains are pleased because their sales figures went up a lot last year.

“They aim to attract people who are either moving towards being vegetarian or who just want to start eating vegetarian a few times a week. It’s partly due to health concerns, too, because the government now recommends people reduce their meat intake, especially charcuterie”.

The trend was boosted in 2016 by the adoption in France of the official green V label for vegetarian food, which comes in versions marked ‘végétarien’ and ‘végane’ – the former means no products directly from an animal, including cheese made with rennet; the latter means no ingredients of animal origin at all.

“Attitudes to vegetarian and vegan food are changing, not just in shops and restaurants but culturally – the Smmmile vegan music festival is attracting more than 10,000 festival-goers. It’s becoming more mainstream,” said Mr Robert.

This is reflected, for example, in the way Carrefour markets its Carrefour Veggie brand, which it claims is the first entirely vegetarian range by a major chain. Avoiding associations of vegetarian food being worthy but dull, it calls it ‘ultra gourmande’ with a ‘goût savoureux’ and tells consumers it will ‘bring an imaginitive touch to their daily menus’ with ‘nouvelles saveurs’.

One effect of this is that vegetarian food is marketed less as being linked to ‘bio’ than it was, Mr Robert said.

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