Europe News

Burgers spark French revolution in food

Adam Thomson

The jambon beurre, the once-ubiquitous ham baguette, has a new rival for the status of France's snack of choice: the all-American hamburger.

The country that gave the world haute cuisine munched through a staggering 970m hamburgers last year, almost half of all sandwiches sold, according to a study published on Wednesday. In 2007, burger sales accounted for just one in seven sandwiches sold.

(Read more: Where'sthe beef? Industry at crossroads)

Dina Rudick | The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The explosion in burger sales will doubtless spark some soul-searching in a country where gastronomy has long been a point of pride but where sales at fast food outlets in 2012 outpaced those of traditional sit-down restaurants for the first time.

It will also likely add to growing concerns among some French lawmakers and food-standards groups, who complain that culinary standards are sliding.

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Last month, France's parliament passed the fait maison or "home-made" law, which will force restaurant owners to label more clearly how each dish on their menu is prepared.

The law, expected to go into force in March, is designed to halt therise of increasingly pre-prepared dishes as restaurant owners turn to agro-industry and off-premises catering services to offset falling sales caused by France's economic malaise.

Debate it: Burger King vs McDonald's

Sylvia Pinel, France's minister for handicrafts, commerce and tourism, said at the time: "The labelling will help promote the work of restaurant professionals who are focused on quality."

Legislators first decided to debate the bill last year after the Synhorcat association of hoteliers discovered that 31 per cent of all French sit-down restaurants now use industrially prepared ingredients in their kitchens.

This week's study, carried out by the Paris-based Gira Conseil food consultancy, said that about three-quarters of all burgers last year were sold through fast-food outlets.

(Read more: Olive Garden enters burger brigade with the Italiano)

That should come as welcome news to the likes of Burger King, the US fast-food group, which last November announced a plan to "aggressively develop and expand the Burger King brand presence in France" after it left the country in 1997 because of weak sales. Without mentioning the number of branches, the group said it would establish restaurants across the country and create 1,200 jobs in the first year through a joint venture.

Measured by number of restaurants, France is the sixth-biggest market – after the US, Japan, China and Germany – for McDonald's, the world's largest hamburger fast-food chain.

But the Gira Conseil study also found that 75 per cent of traditional French restaurants now offer at least one hamburger option. Moreover, burgers have become the most popular dish on the menu in approximately one-third of restaurants – brushing aside more traditional offerings such as steak and fish.

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