BOURG-LA-REINE, France (Reuters Life!) - In the quiet, southern Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine, a Belgian brand of upmarket ready-made food is pulling young professionals and students away from their traditional lunchtime haunts.
The outlet, "Delitraiteur" --a twist on the word "traiteur," roughly meaning delicatessen --is a mix of deli, convenience store and restaurant, offering everything from freshly squeezed orange juice and organic cereals to ready-made Italian meals.
The Belgian-owned chain is due to expand into the heart of Paris this summer after opening in Bourg-la-Reine in November.
It is part of a new breed of retailers in France looking to attract time-pressured, urban consumers with quality food in a convenience-store format amid the many hamburger restaurants such as McDonald's, Quick and Asian food counters.
Although France is known for long meals in a traditional cafe or restaurant setting, habits seem to be slowly changing.
"It's the changing family and changing consumer preferences (driving the market)," said Isabel Cavill, an analyst with Planet Retail, citing similar chains like Le Pain Quotidien -- which is also originally Belgian -- and the less upmarket Daily Monop', which is 50 percent owned by Casino Guichard.
The Belgian EXKi lunch room chain opened in Paris in 2006 and Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer, is testing an urban convenience banner called Carrefour City.
What sets Delitraiteur apart, according to Cavill, is the focus on premium foods and the hybrid mix of lunchtime restaurant and late-night convenience store.
The Bourg-la-Reine outlet is open seven days a week, between 7.30 a.m. and 10 p.m., and has mostly upmarket brands on its shelves like Compagnia dell'Arabica coffee.
Its ready meals, prepared in Belgium and delivered to France within a 24-hour time-frame, cost around 6 to 10 euros ($8.45-$14.09) each and range from traditional recipes like gratin dauphinois to Thai and Chinese dishes.
"We come every day, just for lunch," said Emeline Goumidi and Clara Pinhede, two 15-year-old students who have ditched the school canteen in favor of Delitraiteur. "It's more fun."
Delitraiteur has a "varied choice of dishes," according to Thierry Vincent, 40, who was polishing off lunch with two of his colleagues from a nearby insurance firm. "We're regularly here."
However, the locals have shown less interest in Delitraiteur as a source of evening meals, according to Ariane Delmas, the chain's head of marketing in France, though she insists it will only be a matter of time before they make the connection.
"Today French people are not in the habit of popping into a store in the evening to buy a ready meal," she said. "It's a market we have to create ourselves."
Delitraiteur plans to open four more French outlets in 2010, with the key test due in June when it is to open a branch in the Center Pompidou in the heart of Paris.
Its parent company, Louis Delhaize Group, has opened 29 Delitraiteur branches over the past decade in Belgium. Louis Delhaize has the Cora and Match supermarkets and Houra online store but is not related to the larger Delhaize Group.
Delitraiteur says it makes annual sales of 42 million euros.
(Editing by Marcel Michelson)