Global snacking theme dominates French bakery show

by Dan Malovany
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Pascal Cantenot, La Paniere; Guiliana Mannucci, RosebyMary, and Sebastien Covelli, Maison Covelli, discuss how they expanded beyond baked goods to drive traffic to their businesses.

PARIS — A funny thing happened this year at Europain, France’s largest baking exposition held Feb. 3-6 in Paris. While the emphasis clearly remained focused on baguettes and other classic European baked foods, this year’s biennial event morphed into a snack show with demonstrations, seminars and even exhibitors targeting the trend toward mini-meals and multiple snacking occasions throughout the day.

Throughout the hall at the Parc des Exposition, banners promoted grab-and-go products, including bite-sized pastries, finger foods and mini-buns for sandwiches that looked more like appetizers. Even equipment manufacturers shouted out the trend with one exhibitor posting signage that blared out “Snack! Attack!” next to its rack oven.

Europain’s Le Lab du Boulanger — or baker’s lab that focused on new ideas for manufacturing and selling bread — provided daily demonstrations on snacking and even one on hot dog buns.

Such an emphasis on grazing and menu diversification is not surprising. Throughout Europe, a growing number of bakeries in this ultra-competitive market also have evolved into what can best be described as Panera-style or even full-menu restaurants. The objective is to make their businesses more dynamic and increase sales throughout the day, according to three bakers at a presentation on “Snacking Baker: why and how to create an offer on all times of the day.”

Even equipment manufacturers touted the snacking occasion at Europain.

Today, the emphasis is not only on selling bread, but also incorporating it as a component of the broader meal experience, said Pascal Cantenot, chief executive officer of La Paniere, Aix le Bains, France.

“Bread is still being eaten, but differently and more as part of a sandwich,” he said.

La Paniere runs a central bakery that supplies a couple dozen retail shops in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, according to its web site. In addition to takeout pastries and other baked foods, Mr. Cantenot noted the stores also offer full breakfast menus and in-between meal snacks.

“More people are eating breakfast away from home, and they also tend to want a snack late in the afternoon,” he said.

Mr. Cantenot noted a greater number of French people are buying more bread and viennoiserie in the late afternoon or after work for dinner, then saving some of it as they race out of the house the next morning. “That’s a big change,” he said.

Moreover, he suggested the movement toward snacking between meals continues to expand exponentially. “This (increase in snacking) is clearly a growing trend,” Mr. Cantenot added.

Another presenter, Giuliana Mannucci, founder of RosebyMary in Milan, went from operating a bakery to running a restaurant-style business to expand beyond breakfast and lunch and into the dinner-eating occasion.

“We still make bread, though,” she said. In fact, bread, pastries and other baked products account for about 45% of the company’s volume.

RosebyMary also added a little entertainment to its repertoire. To increase traffic between meals, Ms. Mannucci said RosebyMary started a “happy hour” with music, cocktails and a late-afternoon buffet.

Meanwhile, Sebastien Covelli, founder, Maison Covelli, Beauvais, France, observed that consumers are eating less bread and more savory snacks. The bakery recently hired a chef to upgrade and diversify its offerings. “We’re now adding new types of foods and new flavors,” he said.

Eating in-store also has surged in popularity in many boulangeries. In fact, Mr. Covelli added more than a dozen seats for dining-in as the bakery-based business began offering a wider array of menu items.

“We sell fewer pastries so we eliminated some of the displays for them and began adding seats,” he said.

The trend toward non-G.M.O. and cleaner baked foods, with an emphasis on health, could be seen throughout Europain. Mr. Covelli pointed out that almost all of Maison Covelli’s bread varieties are organic.

Local ingredients are driving menu innovation at RosebyMary, said Ms. Mannucci. “Clearly, people want healthier products such as steamed, cooked vegetables,” she noted.

Although the three presenters are transitioning their businesses toward a broader menu that includes a wider variety of snacks, they’re not abandoning their roots. “I still want to be a baker and sell sandwiches and pastries,” Mr. Cantenot said.
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