The Challenge of Exporting French Baking Expertise

September 10, 2016 | Around the World

French bread offers some major advantages on the international scene: it reflects a country whose gastronomy (bread, wine, cheese) is characterized by an expertise, tradition, and culture deeply rooted in the nation’s consciousness. Served with every meal, whatever the meal time, bread is the link that has successfully adapted to changing consumer habits, particularly following the advent of the ubiquitous sandwich and snack.

That expertise is held together by strong, active training entities able to act at an international level from within France or at ad-hoc interventions/locations abroad such as Compagnons du Devoir and INBP.

The industry has long been structured around a thorough control over raw ingredients and production facilities/plants. For many years, millers, fat producers, and ingredients manufacturers have been exporting products originally developed for France that have been adapted for destination markets.

French equipment manufacturers are now high-powered players and propose a wide and varied offering that has been adapted in size to different food industry segments (HORECA, craft, semi-industrial and industrial), and with an increasingly world-scale coverage in terms of distribution, maintenance, and cutting-edge technologies. French players are now present on all 5 continents for the craft bakery and industrial segments.

However, it’s important not to be too self-congratulatory and think that all the packaging of the future will be emblazoned with the French flag. The French baking industry has often adopted a conservative stance in its knowledge and belief that our bread is “immutable” and has asked consumers to adapt accordingly. Conversely, the Americans and English, who do not consider bread to be part of their national heritage, seek to adapt the product to the consumer’s tastes and produce it according to the local environment. Bread is therefore the subject of scientific study and consequently broken down into functional units of value such as nutritional value, gustatory value, suitability for preservation, unit portions (buns) or fragmentation (sliced bread), suitability for packaging (standardized forms), and/or ease of consumption (lack of crumbs). The marketing for these adaptations differs from that required for traditional bread forms.

The future of French bread exports lies in the choice of positioning. Spurred by this thinking, the Lesaffre Baking Center™ facilities were keen to share with you the fruits of their 40 years’ experience in the international field by asking several experts their spontaneous views on the matter.

View of the International Baker

by Jean-Marc De Kreijger, International Expert in Baking Products, Africa

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Traveling around the world as we do every year, we come across many types of bread that vary greatly in terms of recipe or process. These variations are often due to historical reasons: availability of wheat/corn/rye or baking resources (dry heat oven, steamer, etc).

Crusted bread, the category to which French bread belongs, requires two key factors: the use of wheat or rye flour (of the right quantity and quality) and baking in a dry heat oven. In countries where these conditions are not available, people turn to other, sometimes non-fermented, products that required no oven—for example noodles in Asia and tortillas in South America.

While colonization, and then globalization, brought about the export of expertise and raw ingredients, consumption habits were not so quick to change and traditional “French” bread is still not present everywhere the world, nor does it have the same positioning. For instance, bread today is a festive product or snacking component in Asia, especially in China. Meanwhile, in Africa, bread is a consumer product where availability drives innovation and development (price/volume), as was the case in post-war Europe. In Europe and North America, we can generalize by dividing the market into two categories: the mass market (bread that is consumed at nearly every meal, and by all ages) and a niche market (specialty loaves purchased for occasions where a notion of “pleasure” or “luxury” is associated).

It is also important to mention that a crusted loaf is difficult to keep. If there is too much humidity (e.g. monsoon countries in Asia) then crusted loaves rapidly loses its crustiness, meanwhile, in very dry countries (either permanently or temporarily), loaves dry out too quickly and in damp, scorching hot countries, they tend to turn moldy. Likewise, the machinability of the dough is impacted by climatic variations, which will prompt some fine-tuning to the formulation and method to ensure that quality is maintained.

French bread developed first and foremost in the urban environment with the rise of the middle classes, but also due to its preservation capabilities and the delicate transportation required over long distances. This was not the case for sandwich bread. This fact, however, should be seen in the light of the developments taking place in frozen storage and baking terminals where such “failings” can be overcome. Such developments make it possible to have an extra-fresh loaf on demand with a low rate of unsold products. Changes in these technologies (method and process) present a major challenge for the production of a top-quality French loaf abroad. Training is one of the keys to successful results both regarding production and baking at retail outlets.

From a technical point of view, there is virtually no limit to the production of French-type bread wherever you are in the world: flour is available, and correctable if need be, and importable, the processes are known and reproducible with equipment manufacturers able to build facilities of very different sizes and profiles all around the world (from the hotel kitchen to the industrial bakery).

View of the Sensory Expert

by Camille Dupuy, Sensory Analysis Expert in Baking Products

A study conducted by INRA in Dijon (2007, Luc Saulnier) defined the sensory profile of a baguette as, “a loaf of bread with a crust reminiscent of grilled notes and flour, and a medium firm crumb with many air-holes. It is also possible to detect a negative influence in the hint of Viennese-type sweetness. Finally, it is popular for its crunchiness, although if it is too crunchy, it often has qualities that are not popular with consumers.”

The “crunchy” aspect is the result of dry heat baking, without a tin, and is a hallmark of French bread manufacture. Conversely, a typical sandwich loaf is characterized by its supple crust and crumb, fine and regular air-holes, and its “gummy” mouth-feel.

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All 5 senses are brought into play in different ways when tasting a crusted loaf or other types of bread.

Sight
French products are typical in shape. With the absence of a tin, the shaping technique is a way of differentiating between various loaves even if they are produced from the same dough. Additionally, French products also differ in appearance—the traditional scoring also known as the baker’s “signature” is typical. The glossy color, produced by injecting steam at the start of baking, is darkish from being baked blind in a dry atmosphere. Sight is a sense solicited more for French bread since the product traditionally comes without packaging. American type bread is intrinsically more standardized, in its appearance and marketing, therefore appeals more to sentiment and memory—color of the packaging, brand names, photos, words and nutritional claims.

Hearing
Some products are identifiable by the sound they make (e.g. bubbles in sparkling or soft drinks). French products have a unique sound from the crust on a French loaf “crackling” as it cools, to the sound they make when tapped or touched, and even in the mouth. These are 3 sounds that unique and therefore difficult to copy.

Smell
With bread, smell changes—from when it comes out of the oven to when it is a few days old. It is perceptible at the time of purchase (with unwrapped products) when products are natural (when the product is made without preservatives), and especially if it is toasted. This last factor is very popular since it appeals directly to our affective memory. This is the reason for flue outlets on the front of bakeries that diffuse bread aroma into the streets.

Taste
This is a particularly intimate sense since it is linked to the ingestion/direct intake of the product. French bread has a rather salty, toasty, almost acidic (sourdough bread) aromatic profile, far removed from American/English type bread.

Touch
This sense highlights the tactile nature of the product and crusted bread is characterized by a certain “resilience” thanks to its crust and crumb texture (firm and crunchy in the mouth).

This differentiation when it comes to basic products shows the immense diversity that is to be found in food models. Where the Mediterranean people prefer firmer/crustier textures and savory produce (i.e. fruit, raw vegetables and fish), Americans and the English tend more towards sweet, soft melt-in-the-mouth products (i.e. hamburgers, soft drinks, and ice cream).

Globalization now tends to “disseminate” the American food model, which is based on the standardization of industrially produced sweet, melt-in-mouth products that are easy to come by and support ease-of-use (long-life, pre-cut, crumb-free, spreadable). For this reason, from a sensory point of view, French bread could become marginalized with time and find itself in a niche market positioning.

View of a Leading Producer of French Bread in Asia

by SPC Paris Baguette, South Korea

When Sensory Analysis Team members of the Korean company, SPC Paris Baguette, recently visited Lesaffre’s European headquarters in France, we took the opportunity of asking them their views on the expatriation of the baguette. Calling on their reputation and experience, they were able to give us the following testimonials.

“SPC grew around the union between a top-quality product and a thoroughly-mastered technology. French bread has been one of our leading products from the start and is an accurate reflection of our image and our reputation. The European type crusted loaf offering is still a subject of in-depth study for us and it did not come about just like that: it is a niche product, which has a very powerful image among a demanding expatriate clientele. In order to appeal to local populations with an open-minded outlook SPC needed to acquire knowledge of these products over past trips to Europe for both work and pleasure.”

“In Korea, the baguette is a highly reputed product. Offering international coverage, SPC proposes two qualities of baguette through its Paris Croissant and Paris Baguette chains. Paris Croissant sells a very high-quality baguette, marketed as a luxury product in packaging that sets it off to advantage. Paris Baguette offers its clientele a more affordable baguette in less elaborate packaging. The average price for a baguette in Korea is 2 Euros.”

“While the baguette is highly regarded, it is English-style bread sales (American bread), which have posted the strongest growth for the last few years. This type of bread is consumed at any time of day: in a sweet version for breakfast in the morning, and a savory version for lunch. In Korea, although bread is now an everyday consumer product, a crusted loaf is still a supplementary product.”

“Korean consumers are becoming increasingly demanding over quality and are constantly in search of new products. For example, young Korean women are very concerned about their figures. As a result, a new consumer trend is taking over from rice: the sandwich loaf, which has recently developed towards a more fiber-rich, wholemeal loaf. Bread with a medium or long-term shelf-life has negative connotations for our customers—a loaf that keeps longer is not “natural” or “authentic”. We have therefore adapted our offering by producing bread without preservatives or improvers; this is especially feasible since our customers usually eat their bread within a few hours of purchase.”

“In Korea, we have successfully adapted our manufacturing processes—among SPC product references, the sandwich loaf is the only bread produced using the direct process. Traditional Korean and crusted loaves require freezing. Technically, crusted bread is still a complex product and freezing methods have enabled it to develop into a standardized product produced by experts with raw ingredients carefully selected from centralized sites. We use negative cold logistics to obtain a product of reduced volume, but stable for long periods of time. Baking-off is easy and can be conducted in many confined spaces with heavy traffic. The personnel at the retail outlets can be trained quickly and easily in these techniques and the products can be baked on demand, thus minimizing waste and increasing the possibility of offering freshly baked goods several times a day.”

“The freezing of bakery goods was a cutting-edge technology when SPC first started out in Asia and Lesaffre helped us in our task. Together we continue to develop the process and our applications to cater to the changing technologies and expectations of our consumers. French bread is part of that change, even though current trends point more to the American/English-style loaf.”

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