Have the French missed the mark of “better eating”?

When on the evening of March 16, 2020, Emmanuel Macron announced the implementation of a first confinement against Covid-19, many French people saw in this parenthesis an opportunity to move on to a “next world”. For many, this had to go through a more local, more organic, healthier, more “homemade” cuisine, while having more fun… Three years later, the French have found the course of their lives, and their old habits, to a few points.

First observation, no doubt, the French remain French: “Pleasure has always been their first concern associated with food, whether before or after Covid-19”, explains to 20 minutes Laurence David, General Delegate of the Nestlé Foundation, which published the third edition of theFood & Families Observatory of the foundation. However, the importance of pleasure has fallen slightly since the arrival of the coronavirus: “58% of French people cited it as their primary concern in 2019, compared to 50% in 2022”, notes Laurence David. On the other hand, the question of health occupies much more minds and stomachs. A “direct consequence of the health crisis”.

The “homemade” looks gray

However, what could be better for the health than “homemade”. Unfortunately, according to a Nielsen Institute webinar dedicated to the analysis of French consumption in 2022, despite a boom during Covid-19, “homemade” is now in decline. Thus the French “eat more processed fruits and vegetables than before, such as compotes or soups”, notes Florence Thorez, dietician nutritionist in Paris and member of the French Association of Dieticians Nutritionists (AFDN). “It’s better than eating a cake, of course, but a compote contains less fiber than a real apple”, regrets the nutritionist.

The Nielsen Institute observes this phenomenon in the types of purchases made by consumers in supermarkets: more dishes already prepared and fewer ingredients for cooking. Faced with the return of prepared meals, some evoke a lack of time to cook. “In 2022, the notion of ease and speed returns to the top 3 concerns of the French associated with weekday food,” adds Laurence David. And, precisely, speed and ease are the selling points of delivery platforms, which have also benefited from the development of teleworking.

The delivery boom

“On the one hand, there are teleworkers who are happy and who cook. On the other hand, there are those who order or quickly eat prepared meals. And there are a lot of them in this second scenario, ”comments Florence Thorez. And unfortunately, delivered or prepared meals are generally not synonymous with healthy eating. “Meal deliveries are booming, with huge starch shares and very low protein shares. It’s just pasta, rice and carbohydrates, ”says the dietitian.

De facto, as Bastien Pahus, general manager of Uber Eats France, Switzerland and Belgium, tells us, “the national top 3 of the most ordered dishes are burgers, pizzas and sushi. In the national top 10, we find the poke bowl, Asian cuisine, fried/grilled chicken, Lebanese cuisine, Mexican cuisine”. A cuisine rich in nutrients. And this increase in the use of deliveries described by Florence Thorez is also observed on the side of Uber Eats: “Our activity in France tripled between the first quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2021, i.e. in two years”, underlines Bastien Pahus. And the delivery does not only concern workers, but also families: a third of the dishes delivered to homes were ordered by families, indicates the beginning of 2022 the NPD research firm.

Food insecurity is more present than ever

But if the French tend to have more delivery and less homemade, when they cook, they want to use local products. In 2022, according to a study Welcome to the farm and Ipsos, “80% of consumers say they now buy local products”, “a growing trend (69% of buyers of local products say they currently buy more than before) and which should continue to strengthen (59% say they will buy more in the next 6 months)”

However, this increase in local food purchases is unfortunately not synonymous with the attractiveness of organic. In reality, sales in the sector have been in decline for two years, including a 7.4% drop in volume sales in mass distribution in 2022 alone, according to the research firm NielsenIQ. Organic products are also “on average 30% more expensive”, notes the firm. “I choose organic for some products, but I can’t afford it for everything,” confirmed Cécile, a reader of 20 minutes.

Because yes, in three years, another element has also come to upset the daily life of French households: the rise in prices. However, “it’s hard to encourage people who have little money to eat more balanced,” says Florence Thorez.

Because, the priority for some is not “eating better” but “eating”. Last November, food aid associations sounded the alarm. Between April and November alone, the number of beneficiaries of the Restos du Cœur had jumped by 12% and 60% of them live in “extreme poverty”, against 50% a year earlier.

In addition, more than a third of Food Bank beneficiaries in 2022 “have been using food aid for less than 6 months” and nearly six out of ten beneficiaries come to request this aid once or twice a week, an increase 6% compared to 2020, we learn in a study released on February 27, carried out by theCSA institute. And, according to the same study, due to a succession of crises (including that of Covid-19), the Food Banks, which welcomed 820,000 beneficiaries in 2011, must now take care of 2.4 million people, i.e. three times as many people in ten years.

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