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Baguette Sales Down, French Bakers Launch Bread-Eating Campaign

September 20, 1995

PARIS (AP) _ The crusty baguette, that hallowed symbol of the French way of life, is fast becoming an endangered species _ at least according to a government media blitz that urges people to break more bread.

In the country where bread shortages sparked riots culminating in the bloody French Revolution, consumption of the long, golden loaves has plummeted. The culprits: changing lifestyles and the advent of convenience foods.

Unless the slide is reversed, the state-sponsored National Association of French Millers warns in its billboard and TV ads, the daily ritual of grabbing a hot loaf from the local bakery could become folklore.

``Bread is part of our national identity,″ Agriculture Minister Philippe Vasseur said in launching the campaign last week. ``Someday, if there isn’t any left, we won’t know who we really are.″

The apocalyptic billboard campaign shows a lonely soft-boiled egg with a straw in it _ implying that that will be the only way to scoop up the runny yolk once baguettes disappear. The caption, ``If you don’t eat bread, one day there won’t be any more,″ hammers home the point.

The TV ads spotlight a small boy at a kitchen table, smiling happily at that same soft-boiled egg, but his face drops when presented with the straw. His face lights up when slices of fresh baguette arrive.

Exaggeration or not, bread professionals are worried.

In 1900, the daily bread intake was about 2 pounds. By the 1970s, that figure had dropped to about 5 ounces, and has remained fairly stable since.

Studies show weight-conscious cityfolk are eating even less bread today. When they do, it’s increasingly the specialty varieties _ whole wheat, rye and sourdough among them.

Many children prefer cold cereal for breakfast and packaged snacks after school instead of the age-old ``tartines,″ slices of warm, just-baked baguette smeared with butter and jam.

Salads, pizza and other ``pain-less″ takeout lunches are replacing the traditional ham and cheese sandwich for many adults.

So far, the buy-more-bread campaign has had little noticeable effect on the public.

At a bakery behind the Champs-Elysees, owner Denise Julien said Wednesday that none of her customers noticed the campaign poster on the shop’s front door.

``My husband is crazy about baguettes, but I prefer whole wheat bread, so we alternate,″ said an elderly customer who declined to give her name. ``The baguette made today don’t keep as well over night as they once did, so we buy less than we used to.″

Breadmakers put some of the blame on the increasing use of mass-produced dough shipped frozen to fast-food outlets and supermarket chains. They then undersell the ``boulangeries,″ or neighborhood bakery, often at a loss.

According to the National Federation of French Bakeries and Pastry Shops, about 300 to 400 of France’s 35,000 family-owned boulangeries disappear each year, particularly in rural areas.

``The problem is that customers get used to the poor quality and then they can’t tell the difference,″ said baker Nicole Savoureux. ``Our sales of bread have been declining slowly but steadily for the past four years.″

Mrs. Savoureux isn’t sure whether the ads will boost sales, but she’s delighted with the effort.

``The campaign is a shocker _ telling people that if they don’t start eating good fresh bread, it may disappear,″ she said. ``And that’s the truth.″

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