Separated by just a couple of hours on the Eurostar, the French and UK bakery scenes might as well be worlds apart. The first hint of this comes when you ask a French baker about the local baking industry. They immediately recoil at the mere mention of the word "industry". In their eyes, it’s seen as the antithesis of craft - if not another name for Beelzebub.
So we’ll be polite and refer to it as "trade" and not "industry". While over 80% of the UK market is plant-produced, around 65% of the French market is craft. But the tide is turning.
Gérard Brochoire, director of the Institut National de la Boulangerie- Pâtisserie, an educational organisation for artisan bakers, who is also involved with trade body the Confédération Nationale de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Française, says industrial baking is stealing morsels of market share every passing year. "Industrial bread is very slowly trying to take over from artisanal bread," he laments.
Though slow, it is a noticeable shift, amounting to around 0.5% a year for the last three years. So why is this happening in the home of the daily-bought baguette? "Firstly, in villages around the country, people are having a hard time making a living out of selling bread, because a lot of people are moving to the cities to get jobs," explains Brochoire. "It used to be that you had one bakery for a certain area, so people went to their local shop. But now, because women are working more and more, they’re more likely to buy for convenience."
In an interesting contrast to the UK, where bakers are pulling their hair out over soaring costs, the craft trade in France has been protected from price hikes, because ingredients account for a much smaller percentage of the product’s total cost in France, he says.
"We have lots of social charges and, for the artisanal breadmaker, the cost of the people that work for you is extremely important," he says. "For example, the cost of wheat in a baguette amounts to just 3%; if there’s a 60% rise on that, it’s nothing."
Still, the rising cost of a baguette, up an average of 4%, has made headline news in France. So are the bakers able to pass on those price rises to consumers? Even though cereals are a problem because prices are very high, it doesn’t mean that people are going to change their way of eating, replies Brochoire. "There haven’t been many major changes in the last year, because France has a very slow, evolutionary market." The biggest change, he notes, has been the emergence of a sandwich trade in bakeries, which has grown to between 20-30% of a shop’s sales, from virtually nothing in a few short years.
So while there are fears in the UK that 2008 could be a crunch year for many businesses, unable to absorb soaring costs, this feeling is apparently not widely shared in France.
A bigger challenge is the soaring drop-out rate among student bakers. "Many young people are attracted to the job, but 70% quit, having never worked in it. They get their training when they’re 16, it’s not always their true choice. Then they discover they will have to work over weekends, even though they were told beforehand! It’s a trade where you can earn a good living as a shop owner, but not so much when you work for someone."
So all they have to do to make things right is share the wealth? I bet a lot of UK bakers would love to be faced with that predicament!
=== Innovations on the stands ===
== L’Ancienne Forge ==
Product name: Silolev
Device for the production and temporary storage of liquid starter. This allows a third of the chamber contents to be disposed of and refreshed daily, having fermented for three to five days.
== Fibrolab ==
Product name: Fibrolab
Fibrolab is a coating for walls and ceilings, specifically designed for food preparation environments. The panels are held to the framework by white PVC profile joints with flexible lips, allowing for later dismantling.
== Santos ==
Product name: Recycling waste compactor n°61
This is claimed to be the first compact recycling waste compactor on the trade market, at 660 x 480 x 850mm. The hydraulic system reduces waste volume to between one-third and one-tenth of the original size in less than a minute.
== De la Ballina Industrie ==
Product name: RPV
The RPV is the latest-generation packaging system for industrial bakeries, handling 18,000 baguettes an hour. It uses a new system based on suction cups, controlled by computer vision, and a fast and simplified box filling system.
== Sarl Philixn 290 ==
Product name: Phil Olive Romarin
An aromatic powder with a subtle flavour combining olive, obtained after the cooking and drying of black olives, and rosemary, obtained after infusion and drying.
== Lesaffre ==
Product name: Xtendlife
A patented concept based on sourdough preservation properties combined with an acidity regulator. This preservative extends the shelf-life of packaged bread products and is an alternative to the use of artificial preservatives.
== VMI ==
Product name: Automated A multilevel fermentation system.
Automated storage of bowls on several levels for dough fermentation in industrial bakeries. The multilevel fermentation system satisfies the increasing demand for greater production and recipes requiring longer rest periods.
== Pictos ==
Product name: Pictoast
Conical display stand, illuminated by RGB diodes, featuring small dishes to display pastries, verrines and so on. Imaginative and easy-to-serve displays for savoury and sweet buffets.
=== Around the show ===
== Uniforms ==
"People always get their uniforms from the same places. These would look good on our bakers."
== Dessert cups ==
"We’re seeing a lot more of these in Europe, and this is the way things are going in the UK. They’re an easy way of selling high-class desserts in a shop."
== Displays ==
"These look great, but they may take a while to filter through to Ashton-under-Lyme!"
== Finished ice-creams ==
"A small shop could do this very easily with an ice-cream machine and some made or bought-in macaroons. It looks impressive."