How France's focus on
healthy living is shaping
its retail scene

E-commerce may be increasingly making inroads into France's retail scene but stores linked to healthy living are still drawing in the crowds.
13 octobre 2017

As France embraces healthier living, bricks-and-mortar stores offering high quality fresh produce – or the means to let people grow their own – are bucking the ever-growing trend for online shopping and drawing in the crowds.

Organic supermarkets like Bioccop and Bio c’ Bon are thriving. Over the last eight years, the organic retail sector has more than doubled its store presence from 568 outlets in 2009 to 1305 in 2017, according to research from JLL (in French).

“The trend is being driven by consumers becoming more aware of how they live and what they eat,” says Cédric Ducarrouge, retail director at JLL France. “In the organic sector, consumers want to see fresh products before they buy them. It’s particularly important in France where people pay attention to their food. For this reason, e-commerce has not managed to break into the market and there’s still very much a place for local stores.”

Indeed, more people, especially affluent consumers, are turning away from big food shops at supermarkets and are instead choosing to visit small shops in town centers.

“Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see a butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer or even a dairy store in town centers,” says Ducarrouge. “Small local shops are returning in droves because people want to consume better quality produce, even if it means paying more.”

Going one step further

France’s healthy living focus also extends beyond what consumers are buying to what they can grow themselves. More people are creating their own herb and vegetable gardens at home – much to the benefit of garden centers.

Since 2009, growing numbers of garden centers have been opening for business, up from around 1,500 in 2009 to more than 1,800 in 2017, according to JLL figures.

“The types of people shopping at garden centers are amateurs rather than professionals,” says Ducarrouge. “They choose to go into stores not only to assure themselves that the products that they’re buying meet their needs but also to ask advice from sales assistants.”

E-commerce making inroads

E-commerce is nevertheless growing and evolving across France. It accounted for just under 9 percent of the total retail sector in 2017. The entrance of new retailers, new technology and new delivery methods could drive its development.

In the DIY sector, for example, online pure play retailers like Mano-Mano or Brico-Prive could encourage more people to shop online. Online sales in the DIY sector could account for over 9 percent of total sales by 2020, according to the Union Nationale des Industries du Bricolage, du Jardinage et de l’Aménagement du Logement.

Indeed, just because organic retailers, garden centres and DIY stores aren’t feeling the impact of online shopping in the same way that other retail sectors are, it doesn’t mean that they’re completely immune to the impact of the digital world, says Ducarrouge.

“Today’s consumers tend to go online before they buy,” says Ducarrouge. “When they go into a store, they usually have a smartphone and they often make their purchases based on the information found on the retailer’s online site. Garden and DIY brands are no exception to cross channel selling – the website becomes a support function for the store, which in turn sees its turnover increase.”

Meanwhile, France is also seeing the rise of food distribution channels such as Les AMAPs (Associations pour le Maintien de l’Agriculture Paysanne) which put consumers and producers in direct contact through the internet.

While the role of e-commerce cannot be ignored in modern retail, its impact across different sectors is far from equal. “E-commerce doesn’t always have to cause profound changes in traditional retail; social trends carry considerable weight,” says Ducarrouge. “Yet even when certain retail segments – such as fresh produce – are best suited to physical stores, they can still benefit from an online presence.”