Large areas fear a severe winter. The retail brands fear a slump in consumption ” January February » according to Leclerc boss Michel-Edouard Leclerc at the beginning of November on RMC.
“Some French are already being forced to make sacrifices. But the toughest arbitration is ahead of us, probably early next year., predicts Emily Mayer, study leader at the IRI panel. The retail specialist anticipates a consumption shock when households pay the real fuel price when fuel pump discounts end on January 1st.
End of help at the pump
Starting this Wednesday, the state will reduce its subsidies per liter of fuel from 20 to 10 cents before finally stopping them on January 1st. Just like TotalEnergies, which is already dividing by three from 30 to 10 centimes per liter of petrol, which will lead to an increase of the same magnitude for the 40 million drivers. That rebate, coupled with tariff protection set to be extended to it in 2023, has relatively protected the French from rising prices. France experiences annual inflation of 6.2%, while in the euro zone it is 10.7%.
The deterioration in the economy is already affecting the wallets of the French and their buying habits, with groceries being a priority. “Today, the effects of the crisis are particularly evident in fresh produce and the decline of low-income households.” notes Emily Mayer. In the first ten months of the year there was a decrease in consumption, butchery (-3%), fish products (-12.4%), fruit and vegetables (-1.2%).
The “variable adjustment” diet
According to INSEE, the food consumption of the French has steadily decreased by almost 5% in the first nine months of the year. “ Food is the adjustment variable on a tight budget. It’s easier to reduce than your rent or your subscriptions. These consumers are buying products that cost less per kilo, substituting soy for meat and avoiding sugary products. They often eat the same thing, like pasta, because eating the same thing over and over is a budget fit. This is particularly evident in young people between the ages of 18 and 24.emphasizes Pascale Hébel, deputy director of the company C-WAYS.
The success of entry-level, but also mid-range and high-end retail brands, which are on average 30% cheaper than the big brands, illustrates this concern for savings, and not only in the most humble social classes. General household sentiment, as measured by INSEE, fell to its lowest level in a decade amid a deteriorating economic outlook.
2023 will be the year of near-zero or even negative growth, with inevitable consequences for purchasing power. A possible recession will coincide with the usual slump in consumption that follows the twenty-year holiday. Michel-Edouard Leclerc says he expects steady buying in December before collapsing after Christmas. On the November 8 RMC broadcast, the spokesman for major retailers gave arguments to justify his pessimism double digit inflation.
“In fact, we are already at double-digit food inflation at 11%. Michel-Edouard Leclerc, whose business strategy is entirely based on low prices, communicates future price increases to put pressure on his suppliers, with whom the April negotiations have to be completed at the end of the year. recalls Pascale Hébel, who nevertheless believes that the drop in sales marks the end of a pandemic heyday for distribution.
Consumption “More postponed than destroyed”
Big groups like Leclerc and Carrefour had solid performances in 2020 and 2021. “We are coming off two extraordinary years for mass distribution, in which people consumed a lot in supermarkets and less outside. The drop in consumption in distribution is explained by the return to normal life.”, analyzes consumer expert Pascale Hébel. However, the latter believes that the distribution is on the eve of a realignment of its activity rather than collapse. But the decline in their sales “won’t be big”. It’s not yet the time to slow down.
“Except for the 20% of low-income households who may experience very difficult situations, including with food, there is no profound change in consumption patterns that are deeply inscribed in our lives, our social habits,” confirms the economist and historian Michel-Pierre Chélini, specialized in inflation, who cites the episodes of inflation in 1974-1975 and 1981-1983, followed by systematic recovery in consumption. “In times of 50 years of inflation, economic uncertainty can lead to delays in consumption, but not to destruction of consumption”, he closes.