Why is affording a highway sandwich so expensive?

This year again, despite the complicated health situation, the roads in France should be well filled in July and August. On the eve of the July 14 bridge, we wanted to understand why the prices displayed in catering on the motorway areas were higher than elsewhere. Whether it’s for a long cup of coffee, a packet of crisps, a triangle chicken sandwich or a cold drink, we have all said to ourselves that the bill was salty once through the checkout. Impression or truth?

While it is difficult to get an exact figure – prices vary from one motorway area to another, the prices for buying a meal or a snack are really higher at the rest areas. In 2019, The Parisian already mentioned higher prices of 10 to 15% for catering. For other products, count between 15 and 20% more compared to a shop in the city center, or even 30% more compared to a supermarket.

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This is confirmed by Florence Lemetais Chaffiotte, Marketing and Customer Relations Director of Vinci Autoroutes, at Business Insider France: “Even if there is no study on this, if we take an average price index in the distribution of 100 , we must be around 120 on a motorway rest area. Like a Monoprix store in the city center, after all, “she says. And therefore around 20% more expensive than the average for other businesses.

A concession system that raises the bill on motorway rest areas

There are several reasons for these high prices on motorway rest areas. The first is the economic model set up to manage the operation of shops on highways. The state entrusts what are called concessions to private groups to operate the roads, maintain them, secure them, etc. But also for the management of rest areas, and this for a large number of years. This is the case, for example, with Vinci Autoroutes, which currently manages 187 service areas throughout France. And its competitors are numerous: Sanef, APRR, etc.

Once the concession has been won, the operator group is then responsible for finding “oil companies” (Total, BP, Shell, Avia, Esso, etc.) to manage the supply of gasoline. The same goes for the catering offer which is then entrusted in the form of “sub-concessions” to groups such as Autogrill, Areas, etc. These companies then decide which brands, for example Burger King, Paul, McDonald’s or Starbucks, will be present on the motorway rest areas.

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The concessions given by the operators of the French motorways are generally signed for 12 to 15 years on average. A fee, such as a fixed rent, is then paid during this period, as well as a commission on the turnover achieved on the motorway area. Enough to mechanically increase the expenses of the chosen operator who offers high prices to be able to recoup his costs and amortize the investment made in the concession.

All the more so since it is necessary to keep the motorway area in good condition and to undertake regular modernization work. “At Vinci Autoroutes, we have a mandatory reinvestment clause which requires the operator every X years to modernize the surfaces, develop new services, etc.”, explains the Marketing and Customer Relations Director of the group. Install charging stations for electric cars, set up click n’collect, expand terraces in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, etc. What to raise a little more the bill of the products sold on the motorway rest areas.

Business Insider France/Claire Sicard

‘We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it requires a lot of employees’

Logistics deployed to supply motorway rest areas may also explain these higher prices. If, as with supermarkets, operators such as Autogrill or Areas are supplied via a central purchasing body, and therefore group their orders at the national level, the service areas are often further away from the storage warehouses than the shopping centers. city, for example. What generates additional logistical costs.

“For me, one of the main reasons is the obligation of continuity of service that we pass on to our brands”, explains Florence Lemetais Chaffiotte. “We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which requires a lot of employees on site”. And so much higher labor costs than in a shop or supermarket which, themselves, close at night.

The regulatory texts on the operation of motorway areas are very precise and require the implementation of many mandatory services: the hourly range, but also the cleaning of toilets every hour, the provision of showers, a rest area, etc. A large number of employees must therefore be on site, even more so during peak summer crowds for certain areas that call on seasonal workers.

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An observation rooted in the unconscious of customers of rest areas

The economic concession system, the additional logistical costs and the staff necessary to ensure a quality of service 24 hours a day therefore largely explain the high prices that you pay for your shopping at rest areas when you go on vacation or on holiday. weekend. And this is a well-established observation among the French. “You like me, we have in our collective unconscious that it is more expensive on the motorway”, confirms the Director of marketing and customer relations of Vinci Autoroutes. But for her, it should not remain inevitable.

“It’s a subject we are working on every day, how to make prices more accessible. It is really important for us to work on this effort for our consumers”. While the price range in stores is high, the group requires its operators to have a “first price” offer, called “Access”. It includes a menu with a sandwich, a drink and a dessert. Not sure that this is enough for the moment for consumers to navigate.

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