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The return to favor of chicory, this “chti” drink that could make you give up coffee

"The sun has just risen, another beautiful day, it will soon arrive.

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The return to favor of chicory, this “chti” drink that could make you give up coffee

"The sun has just risen, another beautiful day, it will soon arrive... my friend Ricoré"... More than forty years after its broadcast, the cult advertisement for Nestlé's soluble coffee has not taken a wrinkled. But after remaining well hidden at the back of the cupboard, at a time when the trend is rather to have a coffee machine with an integrated bean grinder, chicory is back in the spotlight. Several companies have even decided to bet everything on this flagship product, with the aim of dusting off its image and bringing it up to date. The first of these are none other than Leroux and Nestlé, the two major brands specializing in chicory. But they are followed by others, including start-ups convinced of the interest of this product considered more economical, ecological and healthy than coffee.

“It’s an isolated market, but today very buoyant,” explains Ghislain Lesaffre, the owner and director of the Leroux company, created in 1858 and always established in the north of France. At the head of "the only company capable of processing the production of chicory from upstream to downstream", he welcomes the arrival of competition which, according to him, contributes "to making the reputation" of this product and who, moreover, sources its supplies from him. “Everyone has their place. The market remains small compared to French consumption (...) Today, chicory is on the rise,” he confirms, explaining that this plant, produced locally exclusively in the north of the France and known for the many virtues of its roots, “checks a lot of very important boxes for new generations”. “It has many advantages: it is a local, plant-based, natural product, minimally processed, rich in fiber and it is an anti-stimulant,” he lists.

Virtues that are more than convincing in the eyes of Guillaume Roy who - after a successful experience at the head of the Gallia micro-brewery finally bought by Heineken - has just embarked on a new project: that of becoming a chicory micro-roaster. He believes “that chicory is a product to rediscover, super good and super delicious, which we cannot continue to oppose to coffee”. “Cultivated in the open ground, it offers a subtle taste of toasted caramel, with a hint of bitterness, which makes it a gourmet product without any trace of caffeine,” continues the entrepreneur who launched the Cherico brand with his partner. always, Jacques Ferté. Together, they extol the merits of this plant “good for digestion and full of nutritional values”. Before launching: “all these elements are unknown to the general public or not presented as they are, we said to ourselves that by telling a different story, more modern and sexy, we could make something incredible out of it.”

An adventure that Sarah Azens, founder of the Nouré brand, also embarked on a few years ago, ready to offer “a healthy alternative to coffee”. “At the end of 2020, I had to stop taking stimulants for health reasons, and I found myself quite helpless when it came time to replace my coffee. At the time, there was only chicory mixed with cereals or coffee”, testifies the one who evokes a “market out of breath”. Today, it sells three products based on pure chicory on its e-shop, with one bias: none of its products contain caffeine. “There is no stimulant at all, just pure roasted chicory in soluble form or combined with unsweetened cocoa powder.” High-end products. And for three years, the founder of Nouré has ensured that demand has continued to increase, not only from those looking for an alternative to coffee but also from those who want to consume “local”.

A booming market therefore, with an increasingly young and female consumer base. This is for example the case of Charlotte, 33, who prefers the taste of chicory to that of coffee and started putting it in her collagen drink to enhance the taste. A trend that catering professionals intend to ride on. Like Matthieu, owner of a restaurant-coffee-shop in the heart of Paris, who has just added chicory to his “coffee” offering. “It’s a good alternative for those who don’t take caffeine,” explains the professional, who takes the example of one of his clients “who likes the taste of coffee but doesn’t want caffeine.” “The Cherico product allows her to have that, and she tells herself that she can drink several during the day without any constraints,” continues the boss.

Also read: Ricoré, Cacolac, Tamagotchi…: these brands trying to make a comeback

On the side of the giant Nestlé, we refuse to speak of a market running out of steam, to the extent that the consumption figures for one of the group's flagship soluble drinks, known as Ricoré, have always been at appointment. “Ricoré represents 4% of the coffee market sold in supermarkets, that’s eight cups of chicory drunk out of ten, and 40 cups drunk every second,” says Christelle Arrighi, the marketing director of this cult brand, who celebrated its 70 years old last year. A “true iconic product which has not aged a bit” according to her, whose recipe “with a naturally sweet taste of caramel and hazelnut has not changed”.

However, the one who is also the marketing director of Nescafé recognizes that the challenge with Ricoré is to succeed in “combining tradition and modernity”. “We have to continually reinvent the brand, and we know that younger generations are sensitive to the arguments we put forward, such as reducing our environmental impact. This is why we have released new “refill” formats which are very popular,” she explains. Likewise, Nestlé has begun to diversify its offering, with a Ricoré latte developed for Dolce Gusto technology, but also with a Ricoré au lait recipe based on vegetable milk or even with a cappuccino recipe for a chocolate experience.

In terms of communication too, Nestlé wanted to innovate. To do this, the group has launched partnerships with influencers, such as the Instagram account Dr Good!, or with podcasters, such as La Matrescence by Clémentine Sarlat, in order to discuss the benefits of chicory and “seduce new generations” . “In the short term, we see that we are able to attract younger generations with a 9% increase in consumption,” says Christelle Arrighi, who also points out another reality: that of the lower cost of chicory compared to at the coffee shop. And to conclude: “there has indeed been real attractiveness for the brand since the start of the inflationary crisis, with a product that costs 8 cents per cup on average, three times cheaper than coffee.”

And some see even further. This is the case of Ghislain Lesaffre, who believes “hugely in the revival” of this product “to make it a transgenerational reference” as a hot drink, but also “to open it up to other applications”. In fact, the director of Leroux believes that chicory can be available in all forms and can be integrated into already existing recipes to improve their benefits: animal food, in which chicory can provide important nutrients, according to him. , but also bread making or cosmetics, while the plant also has healing properties. “We invest a lot in research and development. It takes time, but tomorrow's focus is to restore this plant to its former glory,” he insists.

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