Carrefour declares war on traditional French bread bakeries
The huge Carrefour retail chain has updated its bread-making methods to appeal to today’s tastes. In all, Carrefour sells 50 million « baguettes ordinaires » and 20 million « baguettes rustiques » in its 200 or more French “hypermarkets.”
Approximately 200 Carrefour hypermarchés, or 90% of the stores in the chain, have set out to win over the traditional bakery’s clientele in France, using recipes from days of yore to make bread in the traditional style. Perhaps the best example is the chain’s baguette rustique, which is superior in quality to the baguette ordinaire. Carrefour bakes nearly 20 million baguettes rustiques annually, and more than double that number — some 50 million — of its baguettes ordinaires. They are made and baked in Carrefour hypermarchés by 2,200 bakers in every part of France.
In the town of Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, in a brand new hypermarché, 17,000 baguettes rustiques are sold every month, as well as 20,000 baguettes ordinaires, for, respectively 90 cents and 46 cents apiece. That’s revenues of more than 300,000 euros annually just for those two products. "Water, yeast, salt, natural sourdough leavening — everything must be handled with great care," explains the store’s bread baker as he prepares a mid-afternoon batch of twenty or so baguettes rustiques. He has been baking bread at the Villeneuve-la -Garenne store since it opened a year and a half ago. To qualify for his permanent position as a baker at Carrefour, he earned a Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) in bread and pastry baking, as well as a Certificate of Professional Studies (BEP), both at a school in the Paris suburb of Pantin.
40,000 tons of flour per year
After they’re cooked, the baguettes are displayed on old-fashioned wooden self-service racks as well as upon request from an employee behind a display case for fancier breads, such as poppy-seed or whole-grain. "We designed the bread wrappers so that they are transparent and allow customers to see the product while at the same time letting the bread breathe, thanks to micro-fiber paper," says Bruno Lebon, director for fresh products at Carrefour-France.
As to the flour used, the supermarket chain has chosen to buy from only twenty select French mills. "The vast majority of the mills are small businesses that we work with long-term — some of the relationships go back more than 20 years," Lebon explains.
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Ordering 40,000 tons of flour annually, Carrefour is a major outlet for French mills. "For each of our breads we have defined precise specifications. For example, for our baguette rustique, we use a flour made for French tradition breads that is certified Label Rouge or CCP (Certification de Conformité Produit). For the baguette ordinaire, we use a conventional T65 flour" [recommended for breads, pizza crusts, etc.], he says. "The Carrefour company has long understood that bread is an important part of daily life for French consumers and that we cannot neglect the quality of the bread we sell or we'll risk seeing our customers defect to one of the 32,000 traditional bakeries that are in business throughout France."