French people are doing more and more of their grocery shopping from vending machines.
This new trend – dubbed ‘vente en casier’ in French – has expanded mostly in rural areas and cities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, and is seen as the result of small-business owners having grown dissatisfied with big retail-stores’ partners and policies that have squeezed their prices and margins.
This sense of regained independence and autonomy ties in perfectly with the needs of customers that are more aware of environmental-friendly issues such as product traceability and low-carbon footprint impact on the environment.
Producers able to set their own price
“I wanted to bring a solution so that producers would be able to set their own price,” said Didier Filbing, director of Filbing Distribution.
His company is one of France’s leaders in the sector with more than 800 vending machines across France.
Le Casier Français, another leader of the industry, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the story.
The company’s revenues were estimated at €1.2 million in 2019.
Having launched his company in 2008, Mr Filbing said he has seen between 20 and 30%-growth each year from 2012 to 2021, in a market devoid of any competitors until around 2014/2015.
Owners – mostly local farmers – fill ‘casiers’ with their goods which often including eggs, meats, dairy produce, fruits, vegetables or bread.
Successful because open 24/7
The sector’s growing success is attributed to the fact that the casiers are open 24/7 and positioned along roads away from big retail stores, allowing drivers to stop by and pick up products at any time.
Some owners have multiplied vending machines and benefited from a financial bonanza – Séverin Dubois, a farmer in Givenchy-en-Gohelle (Pas-de-Calais), being one of them.
He went from owning 50 to more than 200 casiers from 2016 to 2020.
Numbers of vending-machines are difficult to estimate, The Connexion being unable to tally every record from France’s many chambers of commerce.
Mr Filbing estimates that the count is somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000.
The two main ‘convenience’ qualities for producers and shoppers have encouraged Simon Guichard, a 35-year-old phone application developer, to create Distrib, an application where people can add their casiers.
“Everything is closed when you camp in the middle of nowhere at 11pm.
We relied a lot on these machines,” said Mr Guichard, adding that the idea came while he was touring France on holidays.
The application shows users every machine in a 15-kilometre radius, thanks to geolocalisation technology.
1,015 ‘casiers’ were listed on the application as of early November 2022 (the application was created in October 2019) and Mr Guichard says that he updates the app in his spare time whenever he can.
Theft and vandalism
However useful, some owners have been miffed by increasing thefts and acts of vandalism.
Le Cabacourt, a 24/7 vending machine in Saint-Romain-de-Popey (Rhône), was robbed nine times in 18 months, a recurrence qualified as “morally exhausting” by the three owners.
Mr Filbing, when asked on the matter, suggested that machines should be installed near villages and not in plain fields and be placed at a 45 degree angle from the road.
As for the future, the market may already be showing the first signs of a slow down, as a number of competitors have entered the scene with better capital backing or by buying up companies.
Mr Filbing said he is now competing against 17 companies.
Shift to larger cities
The largely rural concentration of the machines is starting to shift as companies install more in larger cities.
Filbing Distribution opened casiers in Soissons, Bordeaux and Rouen only very recently, Mr Filbing having bought them back from owners who had set them up before the trend really took off.
But others have turned to partnerships to keep up with heavy demand from customers and to ensure stable profits, turning to big retail stores such as Carrefour, E. Leclerc and Auchan.