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Sustainable development

CONSUMER FOCUS: flexitarian diets take root in French eating habits

French dietary habits are undergoing a profound change. Increasingly, people are moving away from traditional practices and adopting more specific eating habits. They are driven by a concern for sustainable food that is more respectful of the planet and of animal welfare. This is reflected in the confirmed popularity of flexitarianism.

This is the second edition of the “barometer” of French people's eating habits, carried out by Nielsen. It is based on a survey of 9,800 French households using the Nielsen Homescan consumer panel. In 2018, its Nutrition Classification identified 7 profiles of consumer households according to their diet:

  • Traditional: this group is older, cooks every day and spends lots of time shopping and cooking. They are more interested in quantity and price value.
  • Quick and easy: these are young families for whom cooking and nutrition are not a priority. They opt more for ready-to-eat foods and snacks.
  • Convivial: traditional and living in rural areas, their priority is taste and pleasure without moderation.
  • Bio-local or “locavores”: older and more prosperous, these couples favour fresh, seasonal, organic, locally-sourced products (fruit, vegetables, meat), out of respect for the environment and to support the local economy.
  • Diet enthusiasts: they are health conscious, pay attention to their nutrition or eat “without” foods (gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.).
  • “Animal-conscious”: they live in towns, have pets, are sensitive to animal rights and cruelty, and limit their consumption of meat.
  • Aesthetes: nutrition is a top priority for them, to feel better physically, to monitor their weight, or to improve their physical and mental performance. They tend to be young and urban.

This second edition confirms the trend towards particular nutritional characteristics among French households. A diet-related trajectory is taking shape, and the French are slowly but surely changing their relationship to food, with a marked progression for considerations regarding environmental impact and animal welfare, as well as support for the local economy.

Flexitarian

French households are no longer traditional in their food choices

While family cooking and the pleasure of sharing food remain a priority among 44% of French people (traditional and convivial), this trend is on the decline. Food choices are now dictated by stances (animal welfare, organic, vegetarian), time (ready-to-eat meals), health (diets that are “free” of various food types), body wellness or social factors (fair trade, local producers, etc.).

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This phenomenon can be explained by the improved living standards among traditional households, as well as the increased awareness of food quality, or health considerations. It is worth noting that almost as many French people are attracted by organic food (17%) as by ready-to-eat meals (18%), with the divide being mainly generational.

The emergence of the flexitarian – a new type of consumer

It is the main finding in this study: compared with 2018, the number of French households that reported having adopted a flexitarian diet has doubled to 10% – five times more than those who say are vegetarians (2%). French people do not exclude meat and animal protein, but try to eat in a more “responsible” way, in particular by increasing their consumption of plant-based foods. In other words, the French are becoming greener – their shopping baskets combine organic, local and sustainable foods with conventionally produced foods – and are also driven by a desire to be more healthy.

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What is flexitarianism, who are flexitarians?

While there is no official definition of vegetarianism, it is possible to sketch a broader profile. This is what the Louis Bonduelle Foundation set out to do in its latest monograph “Plant-based food: a question of balance”. Flexitarianism is a diet that consists in being flexible in the application of vegetarianism, by occasionally consuming meat. There is no specific threshold for eating meat beyond which an omnivore is considered to be a flexitarian. Flexitarians also tend to be great consumers of plant-based foods, monitor their health, and care about the planet and social issues.

But they are not specifically French! Indeed, a global survey of 70,000 consumers conducted by GFK and Kantar’s #Whocareswhodoes initiative shows that flexitarianism is taking root in most continents. In fact, in some countries, such as Russia, Brazil or the Czech Republic, this type of diet is becoming increasingly widespread. 

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