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That priceless 'Paris' label.

That priceless 'Paris' label

Strangers can think what they will of Paris, while Parisians themselves would probably shrug off any effort at summarizing their amazing city. But for certain, whatever Paris may or may not be, it is not a capital of mass-market coffee roasting and tea packing. The city's numerous coffee and tea companies are all on the smallish, family-size order of firms, although some of them have an incredible resonance and do business around the world. This fact of size and numbers, set the Parisian roaster and packer community aside. For most of these companies, the Ile de France is a universe unto itself.

Many of these companies survive on neighborhood business, corner deli and cafe/hotel supply. But many have also grown up to serve the extensive Parisian gourmet-food sector, relative to local, national and even international markets. Here, it must be repeated that Paris is surely unique for its image as the gourmand's heaven. This is an internationally held image that no billion dollar ad campaign could equal in effect. It is partly myth, of course. Nevertheless, |Paris' on the package in the gourmet sector is a powerful marketing tool.

Interestingly enough, until fairly recently, the Parisian roaster and packer themselves seemed to take but small advantage of this aura. The image, most importantly the self image, of French coffee was not high. Next to tap water, it may have been the most neglected aspect of French culinary art. As for tea, it has only been since WWII that the French have asserted their own tradition and shaken off a sense of being dwarfed by their British neighbors.

But from what I now see, Parisian roasters and packers are fully alert to the implications of their address - and tradition - in doing national and international business. Cynics might raise serious objections to claims that Parisian coffee and tea companies are any better than those of other locals. For myself, I belive that as a group in sum, they do try to live up to the image of their city, even as they use and misuse the |Paris' label wholeheartedly to their commercial benefit. In other words, the Paris-gourmet linkage is so strong that it becomes self fullfilling; some Paris coffee and tea companies do excel in their craft simply because they feel the burden of our expectations.

Between an awakening to the marketing potential of the |Paris' label and a new emphasis on coffee and tea as genuine specialty products, the Paris region is currently electric with roasters and packers who are aiming aggressively at a larger share of the upscale market. The Parisian tea companies are already masters of the new age of gourmet retailing; the Parisian roasters are beginning to catch up in style.

These market trends were made clear at the SIAL exhibition, held last year in Paris. This giant food show drew participation from a good number of leading Paris coffee and tea companies. I have recently visited three of the several interesting Parisian companies I became acquainted with at SIAL.

Pelican Rouge

This small roasting company carries itself like a giant, meaning with unpretentious assuredness. It is a family business. Bernard Scherer, president/director, is seconded by his son Francois. The coffee production goes 70% to Horeca (vessels), 30% to company restaurants. Pelican Rouge is also venturing into the vending area, in collaboration with the Dutch company, ICS International.

Pelican Rouge produces about 500 tons of roasted coffee each year. By reputation, and content, the roast ranks in the top class of Parisian Horeca coffees. The quality is reflected in the clientel, which include members of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, Best Western, France Accueil chains along with such famed names as Hotel Raphael, restaurants Laurent and l'Auberge des Conde. Pelican Rouge services company restaurants for the likes of IBM France, Bull and Dassault.

The company delivers to about 1,500 Horeca clients in the Paris region, and has clients in various corners of France. The majority of Paris-based clients are supplied with fresh roasted coffee on a daily basis. Somewhat surprising for a Horeca oriented roaster, the packaging is highly marketing oriented - the 250 gm valve-pack of 100% Arabica could win a prize for looks, as it is surely one of the most handsome package designs around.

Most of the production is in whole bean form, one kilo valve bags or sacks, although ground blends are picking up. Pelican Rouge offers a range of blends, including two decaffeinated blends, topped by the 100% Arabica blend. Most of its sales, however, are in an espresso-style blend of 70% Arabica-30% Robusta. This is a medium-light roast, fired for a patient 20 minutes.

Needless to say, a company of this size, with a choosy clientel, is constantly guarding and cupping quality origins in its green coffee purchasing. About 75% of the coffee is in certain highly preferred Arabicas - Colombia |Supremo', Costa Rica |Tarazu,' Guatemala |Tres Marias,' Ethiopia, Kenya, the better qualities from Mexico. The Robusta includes Cameroun |large bean,' Ivory Coast, Central African Republican Togo.

Interestingly enough, the Scherer's |Pelican Rouge' company in France was once connected to the well known Pelican Rouge Company in Belgium. The companies have gone their separate ways for many years but now again have a link as the mother company of ICS, with which the Scherers are collaborating to develop a vending business in the Paris area, owns the Belgian company.

In addition to its line of coffee blends, Pelican Rouge offers tea bags - Ceylon and Darjeeling - as well as chocolate and sugar cubes.

The gravest worry for the Scherers: the low prices of coffee to producers. Says Bernard, "We risk loosing some of our special coffees and that is tragic!"

Mariage Freres

Kitti Cha Sangmanee is the resident tea master at Mariage Freres. This means that when he stands near the counter at the tea house on rue Bourg-Tibourg, he can motion politely but authoritatively to the surrounding walls and declare simply "We have 400 qualities on hand, from more than 30 different nations. We would not say we offer every tea. We say we offer as many as possible, and most particularly teas that some people would declare impossible to find. Here you have 30 gardens of Darjeeling, 20 gardens of Assam. I have reason to believe we are unique in our range of White and Green Chinas-one of the Whites is even brought to us on foot, six hour through the countryside. We have the hand fashioned tea rosettes, Huang Shan, Mao Feng. To stock some qualities we fly in 10 kilos by plane. Many people do not know it, but a cult of tea flourishes in Paris and we are one of the temples."

Tea - bulk tea, rare teas, almost any kind of tea - is at the heart of what Sangmanee calls the Mariage concept in French tea houses. "Here at Bourg-Tibourg you see what we hope to provide elsewhere - an unsurpassed stock of teas, space and light, a carefully built ambiance for shopping for tea and its accessories. Then in an adjoining area, the tea salon itself where one can taste the menu of teas to one's fill, along with the finest in teatime pastries."

The numerous staff move about in white linen jackets serving customers, answering questions, while in the tea room itself the waiters stand at call. The emphasis throughout is on detail, elegance, first class and unhurried service. "Our clients cut across Paris life-from Mrs. Jacques Chirac and Jessey Norman to college students. We purposefully stay here on a quiet street; people must know about us to find us. We have located our other stores in the same way, to make them feel like hidden treasures."

Mariage Freres is now operating three additional tea houses in almost exactly the same mold as that to be found on the rue Bourg-Tibourg; a second house in Paris and two in Tokyo, the most recent of which opened just this March. In addition to the four tea houses, the company operates in-store tea boutiques ("But without tea salon!" laments Sangmanee) at Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Bloomingdale's in New York. The company is pleased with the in-store boutiques but is stressing the French tea house concept for its plans for expansion.

According to Sangamanee, the Tokyo houses have been striking successes in good measure because of their proclaimed Frenchness. "We offer a subtley masculine atmosphere, a sense of nobility and high fashion. Our range of tea, our designer quality accessories, the fact that a shopper can both buy and taste the tea in such surroundings; these things are extremely important. This is an alternative to the British tradition, and stresses tea as a specialty all by itself - no coffee or food products."

In addition to its own store business, Mariage conducts a sizeable export business of packed teas, teas in cotton sachets, tea jams (a unique creation, now in four varieties - Earl Grey, Noel, Marco Polo, Tarry Souchong) and a house line of accessories. The company is obviously enjoying rapid-fire growth, particularly as it opened the Bourg-Tibourg tea house only in 1984. This makes it both a very new and very old company. Mariage Freres also happens to be France's oldest extant tea importing company, having been officially founded by the Mariage brothers in 1854. This makes the Bourg-Tibourg site historic, as well as fashionable, and explains why the second floor is currently being refitted as a tea museum of considerable interest.

Maison Faguais

If you wish to discourse at length on the virtues of specific plantation coffees, on the exact study of individual aromas and taste attributes, to place coffee in the same light as the most exclusive private cellar wines, then a place to go in Paris is Maison Faguais. There the person to talk to is Philippe Memponte, descendant of Paul Faguais who founded the company in 1912, and the third generation at the helm.

Maison Faguais is located in the 8th arrondissement, an address to be envied. The headquarters are located over the store-showroom where, in addition to the wide range of house coffees, one can choose from an equally farflung range of gourmet food products - preserves to foie gras to tea. Coffee, however, accounts for 65% of company turnover.

The Faguais specialty, in coffee, is what might be termed perfect roasts of single origin coffees. The company quite likely offers the largest menu of Arabica origins in France - a full 21 entries, in addition to 12 house blends. The list includes: Brasil |Santos Saint Jean', Colombia |Medellin Excelso', Costa Rica |La Eva', Guatemala |Tres Marias', Nicaragua Maragogype, Mexico |Coatopec' and Marogogype, Haiti |Saint Dominique', Puerto Rico, Ethiopia |Sidamo', |Harrar' and |Caracoli du Negus', Kenya, Indonesia, Indian |Monsoon' coffeed, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii. Prices are steep.

Faguais supplies to some cafes/ hotels, but is increasingly centered on the specialty store sector. Currently, the company stocks at about 350 stores. In addition to its own main store, Faguais products are to be found in Galleries Lafayette in Paris, Bloomingdale's in New York, and in gourmet stores in Japan, Germany and Belgium. The company's roastery is located in Le Havre.

Faguais has been selling a good deal more than a ton of roasted coffee per week. It is now enjoying an annual growth rate of about 20% in coffee sales. "Coffee is booming here," reports Memponte. "It's fashionable again. Starting in September we'll begin importing home espresso machines. The coffee market is growing in many directions. Here we are promoting foremost our single-origin roasts, which are now our best sellers - the Sidamo and Medellin Excelso in particular. Our blends are going more toward the Horeca sector, although the #22, which was created by my grandfather and refers to the original price per kilo, is still very popular. It's a difficult recipe of 11 origins."

Memponte plans to expand with the single-origin concept. For this he stresses communication with retailers and customers alike. "We point out the unique properties of each origin. We have to explain the special nature of these coffees in order to justify the price." Apparently Parisians are convinced of the value, price aside.

PHOTO : The Paris region numbers some 40,000 cafes, a veritable wealth of coffee service opportunities in an espresso oriented market. One of the up-scale companies serving the sector is Pelican Rouge.

PHOTO : Kitti Cha Sangmanee is a tea master and director of Mariage Freres International, one of Paris' most prestigious tea companies, and a company that well perceives the power of the Paris label.

PHOTO : A corner scene inside the Maison Faguais store in Paris - one of the city's most refined marketers to the specialty/gourmet sector. Faguais offers one of France's most extensive menus of single-origin roasts.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee and tea companies in Paris, France
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:France: rich and stable in coffee, and an untapped resource.
Next Article:Strange but true, fine tea's swift, sure success in Milan.

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