Famous French treat gets trademarked… by the Chinese

One of southern France's most famous sweet treats is now a Chinese brand.

Famous French treat gets trademarked... by the Chinese
Photo: AFP
Anyone with a sweet tooth in the south of France would be familiar with Calissons d'Aix – a fruity treat with ground almond and icing sugar on top. 
But did you know that they're now actually Chinese?
Shanghai-based business Ye Chunlin managed to snap up the rights to the sweet, right under the noses of the French who have been in the process of trying to trademark it internationally for years. 
And locals have been left gobsmacked. 
“I thought it was a joke, I didn't believe it until I saw it in the papers,” someone living next door to the Calisson Museum in Aix-en-Provence told the BFM TV news channel. 
In France, the sweet had been protected since 1991, but that only means that locals need to follow strict procedures while making them. People abroad can legally do whatever they want. 
Photo: Patrick Müller/Flickr
In an attempt to get the trademark on the international stage, French manufacturers took 14 years to agree on exactly which recipe constitutes the treat.
By 2015, they managed to lodge a trademark bid at the Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP), which would have given them the global right to the tasty little French candy.
But it was too late. 
Indeed, the Chinese company wasted no time in getting in first, having their own application accepted under intellectual property agency Sipo. 
The French Union de Fabricants des Calissons in Aix has lodged a claim to try and block the decision, hoping that they can prove that the treat is a name rather than a brand. 
The news comes at a bad time for market leaders Les Calissons Roy René, which is in the process of a major expansion that will soon see a boutique open in a new mall in Miami. 
The actual origins of the Calisson are unclear, with some actually tracing it back to Italy centuries before it became popular in France. 
Many agree, however, that it became known in its modern form in the 16th century in the south of France. 

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ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

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The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”