France: Heated argument about the cheap baguette

Status: 01/28/2022 3:55 p.m

In France, a dispute has broken out over a national shrine: the baguette – or more precisely, the price of the baguette. The retail chain Leclerc sells it for 29 cents. Farm unions are up in arms.

By Stefanie Markert, ARD Studio Paris

“Maison Lucie – Boulangerie Bio” is written on a green awning. Sacks of flour are piled up behind one of the shop windows, behind which is the oven. Here, on the Rue de Berri in Paris, not far from the Champs Elysées, Edouard is the boss. The giant with a full beard takes bread out of the oven.

Stefanie Markert
ARD-Studio Paris

“The 29-cent baguette is industrially manufactured. We can’t keep up with the price,” he says. “And we don’t want that either. With one euro for our organic baguette, we’re already very cheap for this expensive part of the city. Our flour is even more expensive, it’s organic. These are two completely different breads – they don’t taste the same, not the same quality.”

Edouard turns on the kneading machine. The dough is thoroughly processed. “Leclerc’s secret is definitely a lower profit margin. You regulate that with quantity,” says Edouard. “The main thing is that the customer comes and maybe buys something else. But I think our traditional baguette has a future more than ever.” Because France remains a country of bread. “Our customers even make a small detour because they like our bread. I’m not worried about my baguette!”

Edouard’s bakery on the rue de Berri in Paris. “Our customers even make a small detour because they like our bread. I’m not worried about my baguette,” he says.

Image: Stefanie Markert

Baguette as a World Heritage Site

France has even proposed the baguette for the Intangible World Heritage. UNESCO will probably decide on this in autumn 2022. Claire bought a baguette. “I’m really angry about the cheap baguette,” she says. “There is a profession behind it. Such a low price in the supermarket is not loyal to the bakers.” She likes to go to the bakery and would like it if you could buy bread from the baker in every town and village in France. “Preserving the quality, that’s important!”

A legitimate wish. Because in 1970 there were still 55,000 bakeries in France that baked their own bread, today there are only 35,000. On average, a baguette in France costs three times more. Around 90 cents.

Leclerc ‘bleeds agriculture dry’

The boss of the umbrella union for agriculture, Christiane Lambert, is also angry about the cheap baguette. “That’s how I halve the baguette price. That means everything else doesn’t give a damn,” she says. “He’s bleeding French agriculture dry. If there are bankruptcies and fewer farmers in the future, then this retailer has a big part to play in it. He has to answer for that.”

The bogeyman is Michel-Edouard Leclerc. The 69-year-old runs the retail chain of the same name with over 700 wholesale markets, mostly in local commercial areas, with large car parks and often with gas stations. In mid-January, he had advertising posters put up. The message: there are symbols that you have to defend – no matter what the cost. He doesn’t understand the heated debate in the media.

“The French always have the baguette and petrol prices on their minds,” says entrepreneur Leclerc.

Image: Stefanie Markert

Leclerc: Competition takes the customers

“The price was already 29 cents beforehand. We just froze it for another six months. Lidl, Aldi and Carrefour have identical prices. We sell millions of these baguettes. More than eight million French people opt for best-price products. And just like us If we did it with petrol, masks or self-tests, we wanted to show because of inflation: We don’t just wave higher prices through.”

Leclerc indirectly accuses the competition of excluding customers under the guise of inflation. He feels “like the black sheep of agriculture”. They employ 2,000 bakers in the shopping centers and have taken into account two price increases demanded by the grain mills.

Always in mind: Baguette and petrol prices

“The French always have the baguette and petrol prices on their minds,” says entrepreneur Leclerc. “Yes, the big retail chains Leclerc, Intermarché, Lidl, Aldi are cheaper.” This promotes French economic growth. “That’s important where inflation is coming like a wall. We’ll probably reach four percent. The private sector has to do something about that. And the citizens, who give every euro, agree with us. We’re fighting on their side.”

With a market share of over 20 percent and rising – and billions in sales. A new study shows that almost 40 percent of the French estimate that they are worse off today than they were ten years ago. At the end of the month, an average of 467 euros would be missing for a carefree life.

Presidential elections in April

Shortly before the presidential elections in April, the topic comes inconveniently. Rising petrol prices had already triggered months of riots. France’s economics minister is currently taking better care of more mileage allowances or energy cost vouchers for the needy. He advocates that the French have a choice when it comes to baguettes. Customer Salomé also: “I think Leclerc’s offer is good. Lidl does it too, but nobody talks about it. Maybe because they’re not French? If I couldn’t afford to go to the bakery, then I’d be happy to have one inexpensive baguette. That affects families, students, a lot of people. That’s why I find the debate about it ridiculous,” she says – and leaves the Maison Lucie bakery with her organic baguette in a crackling paper bag.

A sacrilege – France is arguing over a 29-cent baguette

Stefanie Markert, ARD Paris, 28.1.2022 · 14:58

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