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French bakers fume at cut-price supermarket baguettes

The Leclerc supermarket group has come under fire from France's bakers after selling baguettes for as little as €0.29.

A baker reaches for baguettes in Paris.
French bakers are angry at the Lecerc supermarket group, who sell low-price baguettes. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

French bakers have taken aim at a major supermarket chain that is offering inflation-busting low prices for baguettes, saying the move would undermine competition in one of the country’s prized industries.

The Leclerc group said in newspaper ads on Tuesday that “because of inflation, the average price of baguettes could increase significantly. That’s unthinkable,” vowing to cut into its profit margins to cap the cost of the signature French loaf at €0.29.

But bakers, farmers and millers came together the following day to attack Leclerc for its campaign.

In a joint statement, industry organisations said the average price for a baguette, an everyday staple in French households, had reached 90 cents, driven by rising costs for flour, electricity and labour.

“Just when the government and all our professions are working to pay farmers fairly, Leclerc launches this campaign that destroys values,” they said, accusing the supermarket of “demagogy.”

Competitors “are asking themselves… who can live with dignity from these prices?” the statement continued, also noting that traditional baguette-making is in the running for UNESCO cultural heritage recognition.

“We’re trying to keep up jobs and quality, there’s a price for that,” the head of the ANMF millers’ association, Jean-Francois Loiseau, told AFP.

“We have to pay people properly, those who plant, harvest, who gather the grain and make flour, those who make the bread. What Leclerc is doing is shameful,” he said.

Christiane Lambert, head of the FNSEA farmers’ union, said that “Monsieur Leclerc will have to explain to us how and how much he pays his bakers” given the rock-bottom prices.

Leclerc boss Michel-Edouard Leclerc told business magazine Capital that prices for baguettes in his shops has been around 30 cents “for at least a year.”

“In an environment where (prices for) everything are going up and will keep going up, we wanted to send a signal that Leclerc will keep prices accessible for consumers,” he said.

“Players in this sector have to accept that Leclerc shops have control over their relationship with consumers,” he added.

Member comments

  1. The primary reason I, and most of the community around us, by our bread at Leclerc is because it is actually fresh. Fresh when you buy it and, by some inexplicable miracle, still fresh when you get it home. If you buy bread at our village bakery, it somehow manages to taste like day old bread fresh out of the oven…even if it seems okay on purchase, by the time you get it home and serve it up for lunch or dinner it is stale…price has nothing much to do with it as the Leclerc is 20 minutes away and the village baker under 10.

  2. In our village, the Leclerc bread is the worst and most flavorless. In all instances I try to buy from local vendors, not chains. My husband likes the baguettes from one of the chain bakeries, but shopping there to me is soulless. If one retires in France, it’s my opinion that you should seek out the best possible products.

    1. Isn’t that what Rob says he does by buying from Leclerc ? The problem I have with the local bakeries is never knowing when they’re going to be open and what range of bread they’ll be selling.

      1. You are correct Alan. By and large the Leclerc in our neighbouring town beats the local boulangers/pattiseries hands down. That said the supermarkets in the larger town going in the opposite direction are nowhere near as good.

        We have tried half a dozen local bakeries and the markets in our village and a neighbouring village and none really live up to expectations (and the €9 the vendor at the market wanted for a loaf of bread definitely proves you do not always get what you pay for, sometimes you get far far less).

        I know this is not typical of all of France but up this way you really have to search to find quality and accept that you may find that in places you do not expect (which for some apparently includes supermarkets…).

      2. But that is what makes life in France so engaging. In my town the bread will vary not only between boulangeries but according to the weather, time of year, even time of day. The same boulangerie that yesterday offered you a pale and rather flaccid baguette can today sell you one with a perfectly golden squeaky crust and a fluffy sweet-scented interior that you will have gnawed the end off before you get home. I préfèr to tolérâte the occasionnel low to expérience the highs. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of opening times. There are a half-dozen boulangeries in my town and they all close on different days. I occasionally buy from a supermarché but préfér to support artisan boulangers out of respect for a great tradition.

        1. Almost exactly the same where I live, with the exception I don’t buy the supermarché stuff, going for other breads at the boulangerie (not all of which sell breads other than baguettes), or at the local organics shop (various breads but no baguettes).

  3. In the south it’s not easy to find good bread especially a good baguette. I asked in one artisan bakers, “what is the difference between your ‘au levain’ and the others, the reply was ‘it comes from a different bag’…..

    1. Of course! The bakers don’t grind their own flour; they buy it in bags. It’s not like the ready made bread mixes we buy with salt, sugar and yeast added. Usually each baker has their own recipe and add fresh yeast, levain boulanger in French, that they buy in bulk. It can’t be ruled out that some buy ready mixed out of convenience, but it won’t come cheaper.
      Because we live in a small village where the baker disappeared decades ago, I bought a bread making machine. We use pre-mixed flour and it works fine for us.

    2. Interesting to hear that Raymond. Here I was hoping the food overall was better in the south, including the bread. Bakeries here in the northwest are underwhelming and often even the pastries (viennoiserie) that is put out for sale is burnt on the underside (and that is true of local bakeries and the supermarkets).

  4. And meanwhile, stuck here in LA, I’m stuck with loaves of “French baguettes” that are squishy and cost $3.50! The second thing I do every time I go to France, right after dropping off my bags at the hotel, is go to a boulangerie and get a proper baguette. And then off for some fromage and un sauciflard et du vin…

    1. Oddly enough, the best French baguettes I ever had were from a shop in Stellenbosch in South Africa. I may live in France but have not seen that quality of product here (granted, I live in one corner of France so am definitely not speaking for the whole country).

  5. I’m in Moderngallv’s corner, yes the supermarket bread is cheap but usually a soft crust and flavorless along the lines of a square GB sandwich loaf and if it lasts until tomorrow, it probably has preservatives. I’m a fan of fresh out of the oven bread with a nice crunchy crust and a slightly elastic airy texture. It’s comparable to the difference between cheap and expensive wine, both are wine but are they the same ? I think not. You only get what you pay for.

  6. Always ask for a ‘tradition’ which by the decrit has to be made using a natural levain but the length of time the dough is left to ferment affects the flavour in a big way.

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FOOD & DRINK

French farmers warn of rising prices for fruit and vegetables after drought

French farmers have warned of rising food prices due to the summer's heatwave, drought and water restrictions.

French farmers warn of rising prices for fruit and vegetables after drought

Peaches, kiwis, apples, pears, carrots, cucumber, potatoes, turnips, leeks, tomatoes and lettuces are all set to rise dramatically in price after France’s worst drought in 60 years lead to severely reduced harvests.

“We have losses of between 30 and 35 percent on average,” said Jacques Rouchaussé, the president of the vegetable producers union, to the Parisien newspaper.

“Faced with a long drought, such as the one we are experiencing, we have little means to act.”

After a bad summer last year, farmers were expecting a good summer season since the winter frost finally spared the crops. But the lack of rainfall and water restrictions in some regions of France prevent growers from keeping fruit trees and root vegetables undamaged.

“Our products suffer from water stress and come out much smaller,” Françoise Rose, president of the fruit producers union, told the Parisien.

Although growers in the south know how to deal with very dry episodes, the real difficulties are in the regions used to having rain regularly, said Laurent Grandin, president of Interfel, the union for both fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Our sector is not in a catastrophic state as a whole, some areas are suffering more than others,” he added.

“We have to return to a seasonality, we cannot have tomatoes all year round. The consumer must also show frugality,” said Jacques Rouchaussé.

The consumer association Familles Rurales has already recorded an 11 percent increase over one year in fruit and vegetable prices. With smaller quantities and lower quality products, this trend is set to continue in September, including for processed products, such as tomato sauce or tinned soup.

Climate adaptation

With more violent episodes of frost or drought, producers need to adapt to a changing climate.

In the short term, producers are talking about the use of wastewater. They want the establishment of “retention basins”, made up in winter with rainwater in particular and usable in the event of drought in summer.

Another mitigating option to limit the impact of sweltering heat would be to invest in equipment to protect orchards and vegetable gardens such as so-called cold shelters.

“We must all act so that our professions and our cultures remain, said Jacques Rouchaussé. “Otherwise, we will grow tomatoes in the north and the south will only be able to grow rice!”

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