As dawn broke in central Paris on Wednesday, a crowd of 500 people, mostly French, queued with unusual patience, intent on buying a decidedly un-French confection: an American donut. . A hot and glazed Krispy Kreme donut, to be exact.
It was the chain’s official opening in France, and customers — dozens of whom had camped out overnight — looked through a giant window at a conveyor belt carrying fried dough toward a cascade of sweet frosting. When the doors opened, they flooded inside, ordering donuts by the dozen to go or snacking at bistro tables in a cafe-style setting.
“The French love American products, and there is hype around American food chains,” said Amir Boudokhane, 25, a project manager at a medical clinic, while waiting to enter. A Krispy Kreme ad had popped up on his Instagram feed, and he rushed to get there before work. “I’ll be late,” he said with a smile. “But at least I’ll have donuts for my colleagues.” »
The sight of French people flocking to American cuisine might have seemed surreal a generation ago in a country that loves its Michelin-starred restaurants, three-hour dinners and iconic baguette. But today, the world’s gastronomic capital is proving to be one of Europe’s largest markets for major American fast-food chains, as changing consumer habits, influenced by a more laid-back younger generation and social media, is reshaping the gastronomic landscape.
In the spring, Popeye’s fried Chicken drew huge crowds in Paris when it opened the first of 350 restaurants planned throughout France. Wendy’s has announced its intention to expand into France. Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza, Chipotle, Steak ‘n Shake, Carl’s Jr. and Five Guys have been around for a long time, but they are quickly expanding their footprint with plans to open hundreds of new locations across the country.
McDonald’s is leading the pack. After the United States, France is the chain’s most profitable country, with more than 6 billion euros in turnover generated by more than 1,500 restaurants in 2022. France is also the second largest market for Burger King, with 1.2 billion euros in turnover. Last year.
“France is an Eldorado for American fast-food brands,” said Xavier Expilly, a consultant who helped oversee the French openings of Burger King, Five Guys and others. “Habits are changing: people are eating faster than before and want a different experience,” he noted. “American chains know how to perfectly meet this need. »
Krispy Kreme is the latest. During the opening Wednesday, a DJ blasted dance music to the waiting crowd. A red carpet adorned the entrance, while the company’s mascot, a donut, bobbed alongside workers handing out freshly frozen treats to eager customers.
Miguel Calic-Cuere spent the night outside the store with dozens of fans eager to secure a good spot in line. “I barely slept because it was so cold,” the 20-year-old student said.who kept warm by taking short walks and making friends among the growing crowds. The wait for the opening “was a moment of solidarity for all of us,” he exclaimed. When the doors finally opened, he found himself the lucky winner of a free box of a dozen Krispy Kremes each month for the next year.
Celia Lea Amarouche, 19, and Marie Besson, 28, were ready to open their wallets after seeing Krispy Kreme appear on US TV shows they had been watching to improve their English, including ‘The Simpsons’ and shows popular police officers. Seeing Kylie Jenner dig into Krispy Kreme donuts on TikTok sealed the deal, Ms. Besson said.
“Donuts are little known in France compared to croissants and pain au chocolat,” said Alexandre Maizoué, managing director of Krispy Kreme France and member of the executive committee of Wagram Finance, a French private equity firm that is backing the project. the company. He gestured around the store, where people crowded around five counters, choosing chocolate glazed donuts with sprinkles, or a dozen strawberry pink glazed ones.
“It’s all about American pop culture,” he said. Krispy Kreme “appeals to the Netflix generation,” he added. “They have seen all the American series. They love American culture and the American way of life.
Donuts rolled off an assembly line imported from North Carolina, where the line is based. New flavors were created to appeal to French palates, including a fresher fruity taste for the apple fritter and a less sweet taste for the strawberry frosting. A Frenchized version was loaded with gingerbread, a cookie often served with espresso in cafes.
The store, located in an upscale location that Krispy Kreme took over from Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse, will make 45,000 donuts a day. A dozen additional sites will open in Paris in the next three months, Mr. Maizoué said, and Krispy Kreme donuts will be sold in dozens of French supermarkets.
Things haven’t always been easy for American brands in France: Burger King was forced to withdraw from the French market before returning ten years ago, after insisting on sticking to a menu of burgers too American for French tastes. McDonald’s, on the other hand, has brought some offerings to the French market by introducing complementary products not found in its American restaurants, such as croissants and a facsimile of the croque-monsieur sandwich.
McDonald’s also set a standard by creating a sit-down restaurant atmosphere that made French consumers steeped in café culture feel more comfortable gathering at a table around a Big Mac. It also uses meats, cheeses and bread of French origin.
Other American fast-food chains have adopted this same model to survive and thrive, Mr. Expilly said. “Sales in France are two to three times higher than in other countries because companies have changed this super-fast American dining experience,” he said.
French cuisine is not about to be overturned: lunch counter number 1 remains the local bakery. Around 2.6 billion baguette sandwiches are sold each year in France, compared to 1.4 billion hamburgers, according to Gira Conseil, a French consultancy.
But in terms of earning power, U.S. chains dominate, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all fast food sales, a broad category that includes quick-service restaurants. The five largest American fast food companies in France had a turnover of 8.6 billion euros last year, according to Xerfi, a research firm based in Paris.
Clearly, there is more money to be made. American chains are expanding overseas because saturation levels in the United States have reached record levels, said Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist of Aaron Allen & Associates, a Chicago-based consulting firm that focuses on the global restaurant and hospitality industry.
“American brands have been struggling, and there are only so many places to put them,” he said. “So we are seeing a rush to countries where standards are changing and fast food is more accepted. »
This is the case in France, where the younger generation is more relaxed than their parents and where regular meals at home have become fragmented. Hour-long sit-down lunches have transformed into shorter breaks that have people looking for a quicker alternative.
And the use of food delivery services like UberEats and Deliveroo has exploded during the pandemic, fueling young people’s penchant for ordering with the tap of an app – a phenomenon that didn’t exist in France a decade ago.
Back at Krispy Kreme, Michele Fidel and Charlie Anglo, who work in a luxury hotel in Paris, rushed to the opening after seeing friends talking about it on Facebook. “We prayed Krispy Kreme would come here!” » exclaimed Mr. Anglo.
Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle reports contributed.