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food / travel

When French Restaurants Go Vegetarian, From Michelin Stars To Le Burger King

From temples of gastronomy to fast-food restaurants, it's easier than ever to find items on the menu without any meat or fish as restaurants are increasingly responding to a growing demand for vegetarian and vegan options.

French onion soup revisited.

“La Soupe à L'oignon Revisitée” (Onion Soup Revisited) for the "100% Vegetal Challenge" of the Barrière Group.

Clotilde Briard

PARIS — Vegetarian and vegan alternatives are gaining more and more ground on French restaurant menus. This phenomenon is spreading across a wide range of establishments. According to the Food Service Vision firm, out of the around 630 Michelin-starred restaurants in France, 145 of them now offer a vegetarian or vegan menu.

On the table service side, according to the same firm, 11 of the 12 largest French restaurant chains included vegetarian options in their autumn-winter menus, while in fast-food restaurants, 11 out of 14 chains offered vegetarian options as well.

"The big names in gastronomy, from Alain Passard to Alain Ducasse, were quick to embrace this change," says François Blouin, Food Service Vision president-founder. "The leading chains also quickly took into account the rising demand. Today, all levels of the market are affected."

Indeed, the trend has expanded beyond those who only consume vegetarian or vegan meals. According to a study by CHD Expert-Datassential conducted for the latest Sandwich & Snack Show, over 40% of French people had consumed at least one meal without meat or fish in a week.

Ready-made meals and sandwiches are at the top of the list. However, 63% of individuals aged 18-24 feel that the offerings in the establishments they frequent are not sufficiently developed.

What younger generations want

Indeed, if you were to interview a young vegetarian who travels regularly for business throughout various cities in France, they would still express some frustrations. Especially in smaller towns, they often struggle to find options beyond the usual pasta or vegetable pizzas in bistros and brasseries. Still, many appreciate that restaurants are now making an effort to adapt, even if there are no explicitly labeled meat or fish-free dishes on the menu.

The availability of these products is expected to continue to increase. Some chains have already made it a strong focus, such as Burger King. The fast-food brand, part of the Bertrand Group, a leading French restaurant conglomerate, is diversifying its offerings: for a two-month period until mid-June, they added a "veggie" version of their chicken burger, in addition to the four permanent meatless burgers and wrap on their menu.

By the end of 2022, vegetarian options accounted for 20% of sales for the four iconic burger recipes, including the Whopper.

A "La Vie" food truck stands on the Place de la R\u00e9publique in Paris.

A vegan food truck stands on the Place de la République in Paris.

Remon Haazen/ZUMA Press Wire

A successful menu 

In KFC outlets, the "Colonel Veggie" burger, which is made with mushroom-based proteins, was initially launched as a limited edition in Aug. 2022, but has permanently established itself on the menu after becoming a resounding success.

Bagel Corner, on the other hand, partnered with Planted to launch the "Pulled no-Pork BBQ," made with a pea-based protein. At Pomme de Pain, a French fast-food chain, the new spring-summer menu places particular emphasis on vegetarian offerings, ranging from tomato and mozzarella pasta salad to a falafel sandwich.

The industry needs to cater to the growing number of "flexitarian" consumers.

In a different vein, the Barrière Group, which operates in the French luxury hotel industry and in the catering and leisure industry, has symbolically organized the first edition of its "100% Vegetal Challenge" among its chefs. The winning dish, based on artichoke hearts, will be featured on the menu of the group's 140 establishments for three weeks in autumn, coinciding with the European Sustainable Development Week.

Some cities have made more progress than others in this regard. While the national average of purely vegetarian restaurants stands at only 0.3% according to Food Service Vision, it reaches 1.2% in Lyon. "This type of establishment is diversifying. Players in the street food and ghost kitchen sectors are now occupying this niche field with products that are intended to be very tasty," says François Blouin.

An economic challenge 

High costs for meat are also likely to come into play. While meat substitutes often come at a similar price point to the products they aim to resemble, a well-presented and skillfully prepared vegetarian dish made from alternative ingredients can be more cost-effective for restaurateurs.

In non-vegetarian restaurants, the offering is expected to continue expanding. The industry needs to cater to the growing number of consumers who have adopted a "flexitarian" approach, where they consume meat or fish in some meals and abstain from doing so in others. There is a need to provide a wider choice for these consumers and accommodate their dietary preferences.

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