Cojean: Hip and Healthy Fast Food

Upscale health-conscious fast-food chain Cojean has become one of the most successful brands in the industry

Founded by a former McDonald’s employee, upscale sandwich chain Cojean is now one of the most successful in the industry. Trading on a concept of health-conscious fast food, the chic and trendy chain, which opened its doors in 2003, now counts twenty-three locations across the French capital and is looking to take its success further abroad.

Cojean reinvents the French restaurant scene

In 2000, hot off the back of resigning from his position as a Director of Research and Development at the hamburger giant McDonald’s, 45-year-old Alain Cojean began working on a business plan for a hip and healthy fast-food restaurant.

Looking to reinvent the French restaurant scene – dominated by brasseries serving up classic long French lunches, boulangerie baguettes, and American fast-food chains – he introduced an army of young and healthy employees kitted out in powder blue.

He gave the restaurants a minimalist and Zen dose of style: bright and light, painted with soft natural colours, and decorated with patches of grass.

And on the menu, vitamin juices packed with wheatgrass, spinach, or beetroot; sandwiches filled with figs or pears on whole-wheat nut packed breads; and salads bursting with quinoa and kale. At least four homemade soups are also prepared fresh every day, with one always lactose-free and another low-carbohydrate. Produce is organic and gluten free. Everything is made from fresh ingredients each day.

“We didn’t just want to make Cojean about eating quickly, but about offering a healthy daytime alternative to heavy French food,” says Fred Marquair, Cojean’s co-founder and friend of almost two decades.

Without a single piece of advertising or employing a public relations team, Cojean was profitable by 2006.

Changing face of French food

Other than carving out this new niche of hip and healthy, a premium positioning in the market, attracting an average spend of €13 per customer, has been key to success. The company also favours takeaway over on-site consumption, as a cost effective choice. Takeaway represents 70% of Cojean sales, whilst the fast food sector as a whole sees an average of 50%.

Alain Cojean has also played the game sensibly, moving slowly and cautiously, one new restaurant at a time, and avoiding the franchise route.

But Cojean has also benefitted from a changing market, at a time when the traditional restaurant is in decline: 7 out of 10 French-lunchers now choose the convenience of fast food. And in 2014, for the first time, sales at fast food chains overtook those of traditional restaurants with table service, claiming 54% of total foodservice sales. The country known for Michelin stars and gastronomy is now the 2nd biggest consumer of fast food, and is Mc Donald’s 2nd largest market globally in terms of turnover (€4.3 billion in 2013).

Cojean’s success has also coincided with France’s shrinking lunch hour. A 2011 study by insurer Malakoff Mederic reports that the average lunch is now 22 minutes, replacing the 80 minutes taken in 1975.

First steps outside of France

There is a similar atmosphere in London, which is good news for the company’s new boss Denis Hennequin, who is currently taking the chain across the channel.

Hennequin is the former President of McDonald’s Europe, and was Alain Cojean’s boss whilst he worked at the hamburger chain. Through his personal holding Green Jersey, Hennequin now owns 30% of Cojean International.

Certainly he will have his work cut out to win over a city already jam-packed with fast-food choice. Pret a Manger alone has 300 shops. But the example of Paul, which now counts 30 bakeries across London, certainly bodes well for a Cojean success.

The first restaurant will be opened in the City of London, right in the middle of the capital’s lunch-eating workforce. Hennequin has plans to open a few more locations in the British capital before going into other countries around the world.



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