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‘Made in France’ label can help

Is it just a gimmick – or does it really have an impact on sales?

ALL of the main presidential candidates have brought up the topic of “made in France” in their campaigns, and the importance of encouraging French firms to make produce locally and keep jobs in France. Is it just a gimmick – or does it really have an impact on sales?

One company that is a firm believer in the competitive advantage of the “French touch” when selling abroad is Fermob, a 60-year-old manufacturer of garden furniture based in Thoissey (Ain).

The company, which made the iconic green chairs found in most of Paris’s big public gardens, employs 195 staff, turns over €35m a year and sells its range of 150 garden chairs and accessories in 24 different colours to 30 countries around the world. Exports make up 44% of the group’s total sales, with top customers including the US, Japan and Australia.

Fermob chief executive Bernard Reybier said recently: “We’ve started to equip the gardens of Harvard University, Stanford, all the big American universities. What the Americans are buying is a bit of French culture. That’s what interests them – a bit of the Sorbonne.”

However he added: “A product is never 100% French. The steel for some of my chairs comes from the north of Spain, Italy or Luxembourg. I don’t want us to have a superiority complex. It’s not just the French who are capable of innovation and quality, but as a company it is one of our hobby-horses.”

Irwan Djoehana, founder of Lille-based clothing manufacturer Anna & Bree, agrees that international interest in all things French is good for sales. He says: “We are convinced that Made in France has a value. Last year I was in Japan and did a tour of the shops. What was incredible was the number of Japanese brands with French names, like Congés Payés [literally, paid holiday leave]. If you go into the big shopping districts in Tokyo, out of 50 shops there are 30 with a French name, and many of the others are Italian.”

However, the impact of “made in France” on French consumers is less clear – with just a third of respondents in a recent survey by comparison site saying they were prepared to pay more for a product that belonged to an official accreditation scheme for French produce.

One unofficial site that keeps a list of the firms that sign up to “made in France” is, which features almost 200 businesses, accounting for more than 12,000 jobs.

Its creator, Marie Thuillier, says: “Today the rules are quite relaxed. As long as 45% of the added value from the making of the product comes from French territory, it can be considered made in France.

DGCCRF and customs – don’t always interpret the rules in the same way, and they cannot check everything. Labelling is not compulsory on manufactured products.While food and cosmetics have strict rules, clothes are not obliged to have labels.”

Agence Esprit des Sens, a public relations company specialising in brands that are made in France says there is growing interest in the concept, both internationally and here in France.

Co-founder Alix Déchelette says: “The French art of living, French values and savoir-faire have overwhelming support, more so than ever, and not just within this country but abroad as well. Made in France has become a key talking point among the French in recent times, as people are becoming more and more concerned about keeping their traditions.”

On the presidential campaign trail, the centrist MoDem party, led by François Bayrou, has made a big deal of “made in France” – to such an extent that the vast majority of the party’s presidential campaign material is made nationally: MoDem pencils from the Vosges, scarves from the Tarn and bright orange T-shirts made by a small firm, Armor-Lux, in Quimper (Finistère).

The owner of Armor-Lux, Jean-Guy Le Floch, says the aggressive move towards globalisation and finding cheap labour abroad over the years has had its drawbacks and that firms are starting to realise this and change their ways.

“I have kids and I want them to find work in France and for this economy to become more productive. For that, of course, we need to accelerate the reindustrialisation of France,” he says.

“Nothing is lost – we can still catch up the time lost over the past 15 years. We need to have the courage to say we can reverse the trend.

“There was a stage when we had to produce some things abroad to remain competitive and protect French jobs, but I think we’ve got out of that phase. Today we’re creating more jobs in France.

Globalisation is behind us. Now we are capable of going back towards a more aggressive French production.”

An investigation by France Info found that not all of the major parties that have backed “made in France” practised what they preached with their campaign material. While the Socialist party has a charter requiring members to seek a French supplier for materials, and only then looking at other EU countries and eventually elsewhere in the world if nothing suitable can be found closer to home, the Front National is more relaxed. Its blue and white campaign T-shirts were made in Spain because it could not find a French company to supply in time and the party’s banners seen at campaign meetings were made in China.

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