Since setting out as an apprentice patissier 18 years ago in northern France, I have gained experience of both the French and British baking industries.

Several years ago, I began climbing the UK career ladder at Le Pain Croustillant, followed by jobs at Allied Bakeries and Roberts Bakery (Northwich, Cheshire). I worked mainly in new product development and in export.

Then in 2002, I returned to France to join a project setting up a sandwich factory called Provence Azur Restauration near Marseilles in the south of France, with Jacques Gallichet, the former MD of Delifrance UK.

Slice of the market

The site is now doing well and employs 25 staff. Each day we produce and deliver 8,000 to 10,000 freshly made sandwiches across the south-east of France, under our Mister Joe brand. And soon, we’ll be delivering to Lyons, boosting volumes by some 20%.

We use a variety of breads for our sandwiches, sourced in the UK, France and Italy. We buy our sliced bread and submarine rolls from Roberts Bakery and our baguettes from Delifrance. Meanwhile, speciality products such as ciabatta and focaccia, are sourced from Italy.

The UK bakery market is dominated by longer-life/convenience products, with a large majority of manufacturers concentrating on volume.

But the speciality market in the UK is growing with British consumers looking for more innovative products and always keen to try something new.

The baguette still represents a way of life in France, with French customers visiting the local boulangerie up to three times a day to ensure really fresh bread for each meal. A French baker will (or should) bake his baguettes three times a day. The French flour mills have recognised this loyalty towards the small independent bakery and have worked with the artisan bakers to develop a range of breads and brands.

Craft brands

France has 34,000 artisan bakeries, with 1,200 selling just bread. The main flour brands are:

- Baguepi: created in 1994 by Les Moulins Soufflet, this brand is used by 2,500 bakers.

- Campaillette: created in 1989 by Grands Moulins de Paris and used by 4,000 bakers.

- Banette: created in 1982 by Unimie, a group of 38 millers, and used by 3,000 bakers.

- Festival des Pains: created in 1989 by Meuniers de France and used by 3,500 bakers.

There are 4,000 bakers who have partnerships with other brands, which are more recent, or regional products, and there are over 17,000 bakers who work independently to these brands.

The sales of bread in France can be divided into three sectors: artisan bakers; bake-off industrial bakers; and in-store supermarket bakeries. There are about 15 industrial sites in France making French bread and sliced bread, which is a small number compared to the UK.

But the market is moving towards foodservice and the typical French lunch break has diminished from the former hour and a half. Consumers are moving towards eating a sandwich at lunchtime rather than visiting the local brasserie for the ‘plat du jour’.

The sandwich market has great potential; ultra-fresh products will be the way forward. And I plan to pursue this from the UK, where I will return in the near future to work once again in the food industry.