33,000 bakeries are under threat

The traditional village bakery is under threat across France, with bakers’ leaders pointing the finger at the rise of supermarket baking.

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Paris baker Dominique An­ract, president of the Conféd­ér­ation Nationale de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Fran­çaise, said competition from modern out-of-town providers and supermarkets was leading to worrying levels of bankruptcy for small, local bakers: “A baker is more than a shop, it provides a social contact for people and can be vital for elderly people who live on their own.

“Even in my bakery, La Pompadour in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, some people come in up to three times a day for fresh bread to serve at each meal.

“In rural areas, a baker will go out in his van when the shop is closed to deliver bread to outlying farms and isolated houses – and that service will go if the village baker goes.

“We lobbied mayors at the recent national mayors’ congress to urge them to stop giving planning permission to new bakeries and to support existing ones.”

Mr Anract was elected president last June and is determined to make the voice of the traditional baker heard.

In Paris the group took court action against mini-supermarkets that, he said are another threat: “In the past 10 years the numbers of these shops has more than doubled from 320 to 670 in the capital.

“Many do not adhere to the rules that commerces selling bread must have one day a week where they do not do so, and we are challenging that.

“Some bakers would like to be allowed to bake every day, but the majority of my members – we represent 33,000 bakeries in France, with 12 million customers through our doors every day – want to have at least one day off a week to be with their family and rest from what is already a job with unsocial hours.”

He accepts bread consumption has fallen, but says bakers are adapting to new tastes and introducing new breads. One of the many advantages of bread from local bakers is that each one produces its own flavours: “So-called industrial bread is all the same, whereas a baguette from my baker will not be the same as my neighbour’s.

“Different ovens, rising times, flour and sizes all mean we each have our own bread, special to us. You can trace all the ingredients and often they are local.

“My flour, for example, comes from wheat grown in the Paris basin. Frozen dough baked up in a supermarket could come from anywhere.”

When is a bakery not a boulangerie?

Boulangerie – a shop can only be called a ‘boulangerie’ by law if bread is made from start to finish on the premises and has not been frozen at any stage of its production. Anyone caught breaking this rule faces two years in prison and/or a fine of up to €37,500

Artisanale – All boulangeries can call themselves ‘artisanale’ because they make their own bread.

Weight – there are no rules governing the weight of breads and practices differ according to region. In the Paris area a baguette is usually 250g and a flute is 200g, but in Seine-Maritime, it is the opposite. In 1981, there was a recommendation to introduce a national standard, but this was never taken up and regions continue to follow their own traditions.

Prices – Each baker is free to set his own price.

Labels – there are strict rules on how bread is labelled. For each different category of bread sold in a bakery, there must be a sign which is at least 15cm long and 2.5cm high. It must show the name of the bread, its weight and the price per loaf, or per kilo depending on how it is sold

Ingredients – A boulangerie does not have to label the ingredients used in the bread. The baker’s only duty is to label any possible allergens. It is up to the miller to label the flour that they use, which may or may not contain additives.