Opinion - ​Unpacking France's American Fast Food Obsession

Opinion - ​Unpacking France's American Fast Food Obsession

Posted by Stelios on 4th Apr 2024

I've discovered something fascinating: despite France's rich culinary heritage, its people have a growing appetite for American fast food. In 2023, France emerged as Europe's third-largest market for fast-food sales, reaching a staggering 19 billion euros, according to Euromonitor International. Xavier Expilly, who played a significant role in Popeye's launch in France and the president of EXPM, explains, "An appetite for the American way of life has built in France, a big appetite."

McDonalds, Troyes, France (48338017442) Iain Cameron, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This trend isn't just about the convenience or affordability of quick service restaurants (QSRs); it's about the cultural cachet and novel tastes these American brands offer. Expilly believes the allure lies in iconic products like McDonald's Big Mac and Popeyes' chicken sandwich. These aren't just meals; they're a slice of Americana that the French are eager to experience.

Burgers top the list of fast-food favourites worldwide, and France is no exception. In 2023, 47% of all QSR sales stemmed from burger joints. McDonald's, the first to plant its flag in France in 1972, now boasts over 1,500 outlets nationwide. This success paved the way for others, including Burger King, which returned to the French market in 2012 after a 15-year absence.


Analysts credit McDonald's success as a catalyst for the influx of American QSRs into France during the 2010s. Andrew Charles from TD Cowen highlighted the strategic move by these brands to expand internationally, with France being a prime target due to its openness to American cuisine.

The success of these QSRs isn't solely due to their American identity; it's also about adapting to the French lifestyle. The French society's shift towards convenience and affordability, especially in an era of shortened lunch breaks and rising inflation, has made fast food an appealing option. The pandemic further accelerated this trend, with digital ordering becoming the norm, as Joel Tissier, CEO of Domino's Pizza France, points out.

Burger King Colomiers Kuremu Sakura, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the pandemic hit the industry hard in 2020, the fast recovery of QSRs in 2021, outpacing even pre-pandemic profits, contrasts starkly with the ongoing struggles of traditional cafes and restaurants. This resilience and adaptability underscore a significant shift in French dining habits.

Tissier emphasises the dual challenge of excelling in product quality and delivery services to remain competitive, especially against giants like McDonald's and Burger King. This competitive edge is crucial in a market increasingly dominated by American QSRs, which now hold more than 40% market share.

Deux-roues Domino's Pizza Rue Bugeaud (Lyon) Benoît Prieur, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This shift towards American fast food in France is a testament to these brands' global appeal and ability to adapt and resonate with local tastes and lifestyles. But it's also a reminder of the evolving nature of cultural exchange and the universal language of food.

I'm eager to hear your thoughts on this culinary crossover. Do you think the French embrace of American fast food reflects broader cultural shifts, or is it simply a matter of taste? Please share your comments below.