• France's news in English
French soap-makers in a lather over recipe
A dispute over how “true Marseille soap” should be made has the producers themselves at each others' throats. Photo: AFP

French soap-makers in a lather over recipe

AFP · 12 Jun 2016, 09:34

Published: 12 Jun 2016 09:34 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

With cheap Chinese and Turkish soaps flooding the market, manufacturers want Marseille soap to be granted a “geographical indication” (GI) so consumers can tell the difference between the real thing and cheap imports.

But a dispute over how “true Marseille soap” should be made has the producers themselves at each others' throats.

In one camp are a dozen soapmakers from across the southeast of France led by the cosmetics giant Occitane who have formed the Association of Makers of Savon de Marseille (AFSM).

It was they who filed the bid in October to have the soap recognised as a GI, a designation which already protects many French wines and cheeses.

In the other corner are four die-hard traditionalists, master soapmakers from the Marseille area itself who want to bring the product back to its artisanal roots.

Their supporters in the Mediterranean city started a petition on change.org that has gotten more than 123,000 signatures to back their demand for a return to something closer to the original recipe, first officialised under the “Sun King” Louis XIV in 1688.

But relations between the two camps are so bad now that the French state is having to arbitrate the vexed question of the soap’s “official” make-up.

“Talks have broken down, our only communication now is through third parties,” said Serge Bruna of the more industrial AFSM.

While they are pushing for the norms for a “traditional savon de Marseille” to be based on vegetable oil and soda ash, they also want certain additives and perfumes to be allowed.

But this is heresy for the traditionalists who make their soaps from scratch in large cauldrons without recourse to ready-made ingredients produced elsewhere.

“We are the last to keep up the traditional know-how,” said Marie Bousquet-Fabre, great grand niece of the founder of the Marius Fabre soapworks.

“We are true soapmakers. We start from the vegetable matter and oil and we transform them by heating them with the soda ash in our cauldrons.”

Marseille soap was original made with sea water, olive oil and soda ash, but for decades olive oil has given way to palm and copra oil.

Even the traditionalists now use some palm or copra oil in their olive soaps. Their lobby group, the UPSM, however, insists that true savon de Marseille can only be produced by artisanal makers in the Bouches-du-Rhone region around the city.

This has angered the rival AFSM whose members are spread over a large swathe of southern France. AFSM stalwart Bruna claimed that the austere pale green and beige blocks of soap made by the traditionalists “are not what 90 percent of consumers want.”

One of the biggest sellers in his Licorne brand’s shop in Marseille’s Old Port is a soap in the shape of a sardine.

For many customers, the lavender oil added to the soap gives it “the essential odour of savon de Marseille“, he claimed.

The French government, however, is taking its time over the decision partly because the Marseille soap will be the first manufactured item to be given the GI status – something that has up to now been reserved for food products.

It hopes it will lead the way for other French regional products like Basque berets, Limoges porcelain and knives from Laguiole getting the same classification.

With a public inquiry into the soap’s composition ending only next week, no official decision is expected until September.

But an advisor to minister of state Martine Pinville, who will make the final decision, said the dilemma for officials was “promoting quality” while opening the GI classification to a “a maximum number of people.”

Sebastien Malangeau told AFP that the ministry was “ready to be as flexible as possible... but the most important criteria is the quality.” If the label is just seen as “a marketing gimmick it will die“, he added.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Is Marks & Spencer to close Champs-Elysées store?
Photo: AFP

Is it goodbye to crumpets, jam, and English biscuits?

After Calais, France faces growing migrant crisis in Paris
Photo: AFP

While all the focus has been on the closure of the Jungle in Calais, France must deal with the thousands of migrants sleeping rough in Paris. And their numbers are growing.

Restaurant boss suspected of kidnapping Cannes millionaire
The Nice residence of the president of Cannes' Grand Hotel, Jacqueline Veyrac. Photo: AFP

A restaurant owner 'harbouring a grudge', apparently.

Le Thought du Jour
Vive le pont - The best thing about French public holidays
Photo: AFP

The UK might have guaranteed public holidays, but France has "les ponts".

What's on in France: Top things to do in November
Don't miss the chocolate fashion show in Lyon. Photo: Salon du chocolat

The autumn is in full swing in France, and there's plenty to do.

What Paris 'squalor pit' Gare du Nord will look like in future
All photos: Wilmotte et Assoicés

IN PICTURES: The universally accepted 'squalor pit of Europe' is finally getting a facelift.

Halloween: The ten spookiest spots in Paris
Is there really a ghost on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower? Photo: AFP

Read at your own peril.

Halloween holiday in France: Traffic nightmares and sun!
Photo: AFP

But it's great news for the country's beleaguered tourism industry.

French MPs vote to make Airbnb 'professionals' pay tax
Photo: AFP

Do you make a lot of money through Airbnb in France? You'll have to pay a share to the taxman in future.

France and Britain accused of abandoning Calais minors
Photo: AFP

Scores of young migrants are forced to sleep rough for a second night.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Paris landlords still charging illegally high rents
Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
How speaking French can really mess up your English
The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
jobs available