A high vaccination rate and further relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions has enabled the French branded coffee shop market to rebound over the last 12 months, with outlet growth improving and consumer confidence returning according to the latest market analysis from World Coffee Portal’s Project Café France 2022

Despite experiencing some of the strictest trading restrictions in Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic, the French branded coffee shop market has achieved robust outlet growth over the last 12 months.

With the market growing 7.2% to reach 3,989 outlets, a net annual increase of 268 stores, France is the fourth largest market by outlets in Europe.

The coffee-focused segment led growth, adding 190 net outlets for a total of 991 and representing 23.7% growth. The food-focused segment grew 2.7%, adding 78 outlets for a total of 2,998 stores.

Bakery chain Marie Blachère is the largest branded coffee chain in France with 649 outlets, having opened 74 net outlets over the last year to achieve 16.3% total market share.

Despite the French branded café market being dominated by domestic chains, US-based McCafé is now the fastest growing coffee chain in France, adding 123 stores over the last 12 months to reach 362 outlets and now commanding a 9.1% market share. The growth places the McDonald’s-operated coffee chain hot on the heels of France’s second largest coffee chain Paul’s, which has 393 outlets.

High vaccination rate boosts sales uplift

Despite initial hesitancy, only the Republic of Ireland has achieved a higher vaccination rate than France in Western Europe. This has enabled hospitality restrictions in France to be eased in 2022, despite the Omicron variant causing widespread disruption in the early months of the year.

Industry leaders have subsequently reported a return to more normal patterns of consumer visitation, resulting in a significant sales uplift compared to the 12 months previous – 67% of French industry leaders surveyed reported a year-on-year sales uplift compared to only 15% in 2021.

Additionally, with coffee shops achieving approximately 90% of pre-pandemic revenues on average, 69% of industry leaders surveyed were positive about the coffee shop trading environment, compared to 47% in the year previous.

Equally, consumer confidence has increased, with customers of all age ranges returning to coffee shops in far greater numbers for sit-in beverage and food consumption, including the most at-risk and cautious demographic of those aged over 55. In fact, 70% of consumers surveyed indicated they now felt safe to physically visit coffee shops, an increase of 18% since 2021.

Two thirds of those surveyed (66%) highlighted hand sanitiser provision as the feature introduced during Covid-19 as the measure they would most like to see continued beyond the pandemic, followed by delivery services (59%) and cashless payment systems (53%).

Project Café France 2022 also indicated that 29% of consumers surveyed had pre-ordered a beverage to collect at least once in the last 12 months, with 24% utilising coffee shop delivery.

Packaging waste top of environmental to-do-list

Many café operators paused sustainability initiatives during the pandemic due to difficulties in implementation and the imperative to remain operational with takeaway cups, single-use utensils and food packaging.

However, the lifting of pandemic trading restrictions in France has led to many operators resuming efforts to reduce waste and cater to increased consumer appetite for sustainably sourced coffee.

World Coffee Portal research found that the issue industry operators felt most important to tackle was packaging waste (47%), followed by deforestation and food waste (both 41%).

There is also recognition within the industry that customers are prepared to pay more for sustainable coffee, which could create further sales opportunities for operators. Consumers perceive Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee to be the best for the environment, with Fairtrade International / Max Havelaar-certified coffee considered to represent best value when it comes to improving farmer income and working conditions.

Strong growth predicted but inflation remains a headwind

World Coffee Portal anticipates the French branded café market will experience continued growth, albeit at a slower rate than that experienced over the last 12 months, as new economic challenges take hold.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has compounded supply chain challenges across Europe, whilst an emergent cost of living crisis headed by global fuel price spikes could further dampen sales as consumers cut back on non-essential purchases.

Nevertheless, World Coffee Portal forecasts the French branded café market will exceed 4,570 outlets by 2027, with the coffee-focused segment expected to lead growth and exceed 1,310 outlets over the next five years.