The evolution of our consumption pattern is positive: We are returning to a healthier diet, and prefer regional, organic and local products … But how can this ‘healthy’ trend explain the ever-increasing growth of fast-food? We will analyse it here.
The pioneers of fast-food: hamburgers & nuggets
Fast-food: many still associate it with restaurants with only burgers and nuggets. More than 40 years ago, the first hamburgers were imported from the United States. An update on these pioneers:
- First hamburger restaurant in Belgium, opened in 1971 (first Quick in France: 1980).
- Brand bought by Burger King a few years ago. All Quicks in France will be transformed into Burger King, while the approximately 90 Quicks in Belgium will retain their original identity.
- First McDonalds in France: 1972 (Belgium: 1978).
- 85 restaurants in Belgium and … more than 1,400 in France.
- Burger King
- First Burger King in France: 1980. Belgium and Luxembourg only followed much later, with the opening of the very first restaurant in 2017.
- One year later, Burger King already had 14 restaurants in Belgium, and said it wanted to open 70 more by 202
- France: opening of the first restaurant in 1991. Here too, investments in Luxembourg and Belgium were made much later. The first Luxembourg KFC opened its doors in 2018 and Belgium followed in 2019.
We are convinced that the “classic” fast-food market in our country will continue to grow strongly. We can see that the existing brands indeed continue to grow, while the new brands are very successful as soon as they arrive. The opening days of the first Burger King and KFC in Belgium were a success because of the many curious people.
When the fast-food offer diversifies
The preservation of these pioneers and the arrival of new brands are not enough to explain the success of fast-food today. In France alone, there were no less than 32,000 fast-food restaurants in 2018. Of all these chains, however, there were only 6,000 hamburger restaurants. It’s not that they are less popular, but the supply of fast-food restaurants has diversified. We are always in a hurry, but we want variety in our quick lunch …
Fast-good & fast-casual
In order to meet the demand of customers who want to eat quickly but well, new fast-food chains were set up in the early 2000s. In addition to hamburgers, pizzas and fries, there is a range of pasta salads, sushi, balanced sandwiches, other wraps and buddha bowls. We can really talk about “top-of-the-range” fast-food, healthier and often more sophisticated, and sometimes even organic, local and seasonal …
This is called fast-good, or fast-casual. The popularity of food trucks is also in line with this trend. Creativity is essential, and there seems to be no limit to the designers’ imagination, stimulated by increasingly demanding food choices (veggie or even vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free …) and the demand of a clientele with ever more curious taste preferences. In return, they are willing to pay a higher price than in traditional fast-food restaurants.
Here are some fast-food restaurants that are characteristic of this new generation:
- Exki: one of the pioneers in Belgium (founded in 2001). Since then, the chain has grown with dozens of restaurants and has successfully established itself in several European countries. The chain prefers seasonal vegetables and includes many organic ingredients in its preparations. It is committed to combating food waste by redistributing its unsold meals.
- Mersea (2 shops in Paris): inspired by the fish & chips concept to offer “fast-food from the sea”. The recipes are made by a chef with two Michelin stars. When gastronomy meets fast-food …
- Shape’n Go: This new concept in Charleroi is intended as a fast-food restaurant for athletes. Customers can adapt their meals to their needs (carbs, proteins, etc.).
- Palika Poké (Paris) and Poki Poké (Brussels): These brands follow the more exotic trend of “bowls” to offer Hawaiian cuisine. Fish of sustainable origin, recyclable packaging … As in many fast-food restaurants, they anticipate the critical eye of the consumer by focusing on an ecologically responsible approach.
- Victorine (Luxembourg): In this fast-good range we can also find Victorine, that opened its first store in 2018 and now has three in Luxembourg. Sandwiches, salads, wraps, quiches or other dishes are 70% vegetarian and take into account the different nutritional needs, with options that can be vegan, lactose free, gluten free, without refined sugars, etc.
- The products are freshly prepared daily, with original recipes, new herbs and new preparations. There is also a range of spring rolls, salty and sweet cakes, wraps and sandwiches or filled jars to discover. The natural menu is also a must when it comes to drinks: fresh cold pressed juices, homemade iced tea, local beers and natural wines.
- Crep’eat (Paris, Luxembourg): the fast-food version of the classic creperie. Here, in response to the return to tradition, we get a real Breton salted butter crêpe, prepared in the presence of the customer. These meticulous preparations are another trend in the new generation of fast-food restaurants …
- Copper Branch: a good example of a fast-food restaurant that meets a niche demand. It is one of the first fully vegan fast-food restaurants, originating from Canada. The first French restaurant was established in 2018 and another one was opened in Brussels in 2019.
Greater attention to the environment
The focus is therefore clearly not only on ‘healthy’ consumption, but sustainability is also reasonably embedded in these new fast-food brands. The traceability of products, the use of short-chain and, of course, the “zero waste” movement are also important here. These changes are the result of consumer pressure on one hand, and the new legislation on the other. And that forces the whole sector to evolve …
An example? Plastic straws! Several fast food players, and even the ‘classic’ fast food chains, have anticipated the European ban on a range of disposable plastic products, which will enter into force in 2021. McDonalds was one of the first to introduce biodegradable straws in some of its restaurants and it plans to accelerate: Nawfal Trabelsi, CEO of McDonald’s in France, announced in April 2019 that “by the end of the year, 60% of the plastic in our packaging will have disappeared”. The KFC chain followed quickly.
In our opinion, these actions are not insignificant, as fast-food restaurants represent an enormous amount of waste. In Belgium alone, it was estimated that the consumption of plastic straws in fast-food restaurants amounted to more than a billion six hundred million pieces in 2018.
We believe that there are still great opportunities to expand into fast food, whether or not it is ‘healthy’:
- Relatively late investments were made in the Belgian and Luxembourg markets by certain brands, which initially favoured larger markets. This slowdown is gradually being made up for.
- Public opinion on fast food remains (very) positive: in France, for example, a survey conducted in 2015 showed that 84% of people had a fairly positive, if not very positive, opinion on fast food.
- Lunch breaks are getting shorter, even in France, where lunch breaks are traditionally the longest. The interest in simple and quick meals is therefore unlikely to diminish.
- New players such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats have given an extra boost to fast food brands. You don’t even have to leave your home or office to enjoy your meal: everything is delivered at home or at work and fast food becomes “faster than fast”.
The only thing that needs to be done is to decide where and with what concept you would like to establish yourself. GeoConsulting’s studies make it possible to analyse data in a quantified, scientific and cartographic way in order to better understand this fast-growing market!