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French pastis producers aim to raise spirit popularity

One of the only remaining 100% Marseille manufacturers of the alcoholic spirit pastis is aiming to revive its flagging popularity by exporting most of its production under a “Made in France” banner.

Family business Cristal Limiñana has been making 100% Marseille pastis in the centre of the city - in the Blancarde district - since 1962, and now employs 12 people.

However, the declining popularity of the spirit in France - which is usually known under the Pastis 51 or Ricard brands - has prompted the family to consider exporting much more of its production, while still using the “Made in France” label as a stamp of quality and reputation.

Currently, the company exports just 20% of its bottles, but demand for "Un Marseillais" is growing from Germany and Belgium, the company has said.

Maristella Vasserot, general director at Cristal Limiñana, said: “The aniseed market appears - on paper - to be crumbling [and] many people often do not know that we exist. Aniseed flavour is complicated.

“It is a very distinctive flavour, and the concept of adding water to alcohol is a strange idea for many people. But our objective is to export our product to people who know it.”

Cristal Limiñana is hoping to capitalise on the current popularity for strong tastes, such as that in the very popular Aperol Spritz, and emphasise the family-made, independent, Provence-made aspect of the spirit.

It also wants to increase locals’ knowledge of the spirit, which was originally inspired from an aniseed-tasting drink that was popular in Alicante, in Spain.

The most typical variety is the 100% Marseille pastis, one of three kinds created by the company. This type respects all of the traditional elements of the spirit, from recipe to packaging.

Other Marseille manufacturers are also aiming to improve popularity of the spirit, raise its profile, and target the high-end market.

This includes the château des Creissauds, which produces 10,000 bottles per year sold at €50 each (compared to the typical €15 per bottle for a basic variety).

Guillaume Ferroni, an expert in spirits and owner of spirit producers Maison Ferroni in nearby Aubagne, explained: “Aniseed drinks are not products that [usually] have any international reputation. It is a very local market, mainly in Spain, Greece and in French-speaking countries.

“In Germany [and other countries], the image of Provence and the “Made in France” label really helps to sell it.”

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