Europain: Bakers share vision of artisan bread's future

by John Unrein
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Pascal Rigo
Pascal Rigo (right) discussed his decision to walk away from a partnership with Starbucks.

PARIS — “Healthy but sexy” are the words Michel Suas uses to describe the future of artisan bread in the United States. The founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute and co-founder of the award-winning San Francisco retailer b. patisserie (with co-owner Belinda Leong), Mr. Suas told a Europain Forum audience that healthy bread with whole grains “is moving up” and that “retail bakery is coming back to the big city and the small city” in America.

The challenge to future growth for artisan bread depends on the ability of bakers to produce whole grain and “healthy” bread that tastes as “sexy” as it appears, Mr. Suas said.

“When you look at it, it looks great,” he said. “When you taste it, it tastes great. If it doesn’t taste good, don’t do it. Those types of breads are worst to consume if not made properly.”

Acclaimed bread baker Pascal Rigo, who brought his artisan bread to Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, told the Europain Forum audience that he remains committed to producing great-tasting organic bread at affordable prices for the consumer.

Michael Suas
Michael Suas is the founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute and co-founder of San Francisco retailer b. patisserie.

Mr. Rigo said he walked away from a partnership with Starbucks in 2016 after helping the chain double its annual food sales to $3 billion in three years.

“The big frustration was nobody knew about it,” he said, adding that he pressed Starbucks to educate consumers about the benefits of his artisan bread.

“They said no, and I realized they’re a coffee company and not wanting to become a food company,” Mr. Rigo said. “We decided to start again, very small, with five stores.”

That was 18 months ago, he said, when he founded La Boulange retail bakeries in San Francisco. But now his eyes have turned back to his home country of France where he has introduced a new style of small artisan bakeries to the Bordeaux region, where he grew up and first learned the trade of baking bread.

“We realized there was a real opportunity to open stores in France and allow young bakers who don’t have the money to open new bakeries,” said Mr. Rigo, adding they are helping young bakers with financing. “We have invented a new bakery style in France. Just to say there’s a different way to imagine bakeries today in France, which is very traditional. We are going against the grain. Everything is possible if you have conviction.”
 
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