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Charge of 'light brigade' in France as low-calorie ready meals abound.

Innovative Cuisine Legere range from Findus spearheads drive. Gorcy and Buitoni at forefront of family-size sector, while Carrefour and Casino pace store brand movement.

A year ago at the SIAL Exhibition in Paris, show-goers were hard-pressed to find much new creativity in the light dish segment. It appeared that low-calorie meals were no longer in vogue. But now the tables seem to have turned. As regards frozen prepared dishes, recipes especially formulated for consumers who are watching their weight represent one of the most pronounced contemporary trends in French cuisine. Low calorie chic is back in style -- but with a difference.

Findus, the company that pioneered light meals, has attractively repackaged its individualized less-than-300-calorie dishes and has given them two companion lines. The new boxes of Cuisine Legere suggest energy, as they show a grey, abstract silhouette of a person leaping away from a burst of pale, diagonal streaks of color. The name Cuisine Legere, and the words "moins de 300 calories pour 310 g" (less than 300 calories per 310 grams) are also printed on the diagonal, to suggest motion.

One of two new recipes of Cuisine Legere introduced this summer was the line's first vegetarian dish, as the box proudly proclaims: "Nouveau, Plat Vegetarian." The dish is Lasagnes Printanieres (Spring Vegetable Lasagna), with mushrooms, squash and carrots. This writer has sampled many French vegetarian dishes and found them, on the whole, to be inferior in flavor and in texture to US vegetarian cooking. Findus, however, has done the genre proud. The product, lightly flavored with grated cheese, onions, and seasonings, is tasty and has a pleasantly crusty topping. It sells for 17.70 francs.

The individualized Cuisine Legere line offers a total of 16 recipes. Also available as light foods are new two-serving versions of Cuisine Legere. The larger boxes come with only three recipes, none of them a duplicate of the individuals. They are Lasagnes a la Bolognaise (520 grams), Moussaka (535 grams), and Parmentier de Poisson aux Petits Legumes (510 grams). The packaging is in the same style as that of the individuals.

Cuisine Legere pour le bien-etre (Light Cooking for Good Health), a new line, is intended, as the box says, for one person. The cartons are larger than those for the individuals, and the emphasis is on presenting a complete dinner; but the actual calories do not differ greatly from those in the basic Cuisine Legere series. Poisson a la provencale (Fish in the Style of Provence) is a 365-gram meal containing 314 calories.

In order to emphasize health through more means than the name itself, a sketch in grey of the side of a face next to a stylized sun, leaves, and flower occupies the left-hand portion of the box (the area occupied in the other series by the burst in color). The leaping silhouette is green rather than grey, the background to the name of the recipe is green, and a dappling of green in the background of the box suggest leaves. Text on the back of the box meets criticisms that have been made of light cuisine as not offering what the body needs: "To be mentally healthy and to live in harmony with your body, you must eat balanced and varied foods. Cuisine Legere pour le bien-etre answers these needs by proposing to you: whole meals bringing together meat or fish, green vegetables and starchy vegetables, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins..."

Poisson a la Provencale, which Quick Frozen Foods International found to be a very satisfying main course, provides hake with tomato sauce, rice seasoned with peppers, and broccoli. They come in three sachets, which are to be placed in boiling water for 15 (rice and fish) or seven (broccoli) minutes. The cooking directions were well worked out. When the fish and rice were ready, the broccoli was tender but not soggy. The only suggestion that this writer might make is to increase the amount of sauce so that it is ample to accompany the rice as well as the fish. That the meal served up just 314 calories seemed rather astonishing, given its full flavor and the presence of the rice.

Other recipes in the series are Poisson a la Sauce Citronnee, Supreme de Pouli Roti, and Poulet a la Provence. The Poisson a la Provencale cost 23.90 francs at a freezer center.

An attendant at a Vik freezer center in Lyon told QFFI that light dishes sell very well, especially among people living alone. Brands seen on the shelves of Vik stores in addition to Findus (ten recipes), were Gorcy (one dish: Spaghetti Bolognaise), Frima (three packs), and Weight Watchers (six dishes).

QFFI sampled a new recipe in Frima's Carte Legere Plus, Saveur et Equilbre (Light Menu Plus: Flavor and Balance) range. It was Gratin de Poisson a la Florentine et puree (Fish au gratin in the Florentine style with puree). The potatoes formed a light, somewhat crisp, cheesy topping, under which was a layer of Alaskan hake. On the bottom was the spinach, delicately flavored by the inclusion of leeks and white wine. The 273-calorie product cost 13.80 francs.

H.J. Heinz Company's Weight Watchers brand, which is becoming an increasingly strong contender in the French market, offers dishes with complexity that match those packed by such producers as Frima and Findus. Blanc de poulet fermier aux coquillettes et aux champignons (Farmed white chicken with pasta shells and mushrooms) has a topping of macaroni with a few peas and carrots, over white chicken meat (21% of the dish) and whole mushrooms. Cheese heightens the flavor.

Jambon fermier au gratin de pommes de terre et aux epinards (Farm ham au gratin with potatoes and spinach) is composed of layers of potatoes au gratin, ham and spinach. The boxes are individualized, provide around 300 calories each, and cost 22.90 to 27.90 francs each at Vic.

Weight Watchers began selling this line for the first time in French supermarkets and hypermarkets this year. According to Points de Vente, to help publicize the entry, H.J. Heinz Co. mailed out 370,000 notices inviting consumers to sample a dish free of charge. Another 200,000 such invitations were given to shoppers at La Redoute clothing stores.

Family-size prepared meals are still strong contenders in the market. The calorie count is not an issue here as recipes tend to be rich and traditional. Gorcy, which initiated the move to family sizes, offers Gratin Provencal weighing 1,000 grams (25.50 francs) and Moussaka, a gratin of eggplant with meat (29.50 francs for 850 grams), among others. The Findus range includes Gratin de Pommes de terre au jambon (Potato gratin with ham), Lasagnes a la Bolognaise, Gratin de quenelles au fromage (42.10 francs), and Poisson bonne femme (Boneless hake with potatoes).

Buitoni, owned, like France Glaces Findus, by Nestle, has gone the extra mile in promoting its line. In each of its boxes of prepared dishes for families, it includes 12 playing cards for a "mini-game." The cards humorously picture members of eight different families which are each named after food. Some families, like Mini-Cannelloni or Grandiosa, refer specifically to Buitoni products. Others, such as Pizza and Lasagne, are more general. To reinforce the advertising, the backs of the Buitoni cartons list various family-sized dishes.

Frosta Proliferates

Exotic foreign recipes as well as traditional French and Italian dishes are strong contenders in frozen food cases. They usually come from companies abroad or from domestic firms specializing in "exotic" meals. Frosta is offering international cooking to the French. Picard sells four of the German packer's 750-gram (almost family-size) Bon Appetit dishes, which can be divided into portions, for 32 francs each. The recipes are: from Italy -- Tortellini Souffle (tortellini with broccoli, tomatoes, bacon and melted cheese); from the Far East -- "Bami Goreng" (noodles, chicken, shrimp and bamboo sprouts); from the Orient -- "Nasi Goreng," rice, chicken and vegetables; and from Indonesia -- "Indian Chicken," also rice, chicken and vegetables, but spiced differently. The instructions on the bags in which they are sold are written in Dutch, English and French.

On the other hand, Cuisine du Monde (Elkagel) at Vitry-sur-Seine, well established in the French market, sells packages of four enchiladas for 30.70 francs, four tacos for 29.80 francs, and eight oriental items for 27.60 francs, among other dishes.

The Picard chain of freezer centers has its own line of exotic meals, La Cuisine des Cinq Continents. Its "Tajine" of chicken with raisins, onions and semolina is a Tunisian recipe that sells for 31.20 francs per box of 350 grams. The "Colombo" of creole pork with rice and spiced sauce from the Antilles goes far 28.60 for a 400 gram box. "Chili con Carne" from Mexico, containing beef and (packaged separately within the carton) what French consumers are warned are "very strong" spices, retails at 24 francs for 350 grams.

Foreign, but the antithesis of what is normally thought of as exotic meals, are American-style "fast-food" dishes. The French Charal is a leading company in this market, with microwaveable "Hamburgers," "Cheese Burgers" and "Hot Dogs" sold individually and costing around 10 or 12 francs each. Charal also offers as a fast food the traditional French "Croque-Monsieur," a type of cooked sandwich with cheese and a little ham.

French retailers' private labels have long been giving the frozen food brands a run for their money in regard to high-turnover, standard products such as packages of plain vegetables. Increasingly they are now competing in the realm of elaborate prepared dishes. Carrefour, for instance, now offers a Tropical Filet of Sole stuffed with prawns and topped with lobster sauce, and tagliatelles with spinach. The price is only 18.60 francs for 300 grams.

The chain's Cuisse de canard confite pommes Sarladaises, potatoes flavored with truffles (120 grams) along with duck thigh (180 grams) sells for the same relatively low price.

Casino offers an Italian recipe lasagne for 17.70 francs per 450 grams, as well as three cannellonis for 22.80 francs.

The finest of all the private label offerings, however, may be the various products found in Picard stores. In 1993 the freezer center chain brought out a line of single-portion prepared dishes in upscale packaging featuring upscale recipes. The prices are all 23 francs or higher, but given the quality, shoppers consider the items good buys. For example: Osso Bucco tagliatelles, 400 grams for 31.50 francs; Lapin, la graine de moutarde tagliatelles, 370 grams for 29.90 francs; Boeuf fondant aux carottes ("lean and tender meat simmered in a light sauce flavored with cognac") featuring 40% carrots, 27.5% beef, 400 grams for 26.20 francs.

The two newest dishes are Supreme de poulet au cidre (Chicken Supreme with Cider, also potatoes and turnips) and Coq au vin de Bourgogne with tagliatelles. All are sold in a richly colored box, the background of which is a deep brown with the look of wrinkled leather. Practicality is not forgotten, however. On each Picard carton containing a prepared dish, in this range and in others, is a white space in which are shown whether a dish needs to be cooked or only heated, whether it can be prepared in a microwave appliance, standard oven, and/or double boilers, and for each possible means the time required.

Bonduelle a Major Factor On Euro Vegetable Scene

Boasting sales of over 4.5 billion French francs and branches in 12 European countries, Bonduelle S.A. figures that it is supplying 15% of all the frozen vegetables consumed on the Continent, and probably as much as 30% of the canned varieties. Headquartered in northern France, the 131-year-old company last year marched east to start up factory operations in Warsaw, Poland, and Nagykoros, Hungary.

Raw materials are sourced almost exclusively from Europe, with the Bonduelle Group being supplied by a network of 10,000 growers who farm 60,000 acres. Some 140,000 tons of vegetables are frozen annually, averaging 2.8 million pounds daily. Fifty different kinds are processed.

Net income from both canned and frozen sales totaled FF 65.2 million in 1991. On the frozen side, brands accounted for 85% of the volume, with private label representing 15%.

The company's frozen product line runs the gamut from pre-cooked sliced zucchini and carrot sticks, to French-, Milano- and Pipadou-style mixed vegetables, to salads, cordials and stir-fry preparations. Also available are frozen purees, sauced and creamed vegetables. Among recipes in the latter category are sliced savoy cabbage, leaf spinach, sliced leeks, and potatoes dauphinoise style.

Fifteen factories are situated in six countries. In Spain, Bonduelle has developed and launched frozen runner beans, which had previously been available only in fresh form. It also brought out frozen Menestra, a blend of asparagus and sweet peppers.

Close attention has been paid to local tastes in other markets too, including Portugal. Meanwhile, in the UK Bonduelle's British subsidiary claims to have up to 70% of the high-class catering segment.

From Chicken Kiev to Duck, B.S.A. Poultry Flies High

With half of its annual turnover of |pounds~400 million generated from exports, B.S.A. of France aims to boost sales abroad even more. Great Britain is particularly eyed as ripe for the company's value added ranges.

The Groupe Bourgoin member claims to offer the widest line of poultry products available from any European producer, and says it leads the Chicken Kiev market outright.

Doing business in 80 countries worldwide, B.S.A. has 22 operations in France and 10 in Spain. It maintains total control of production, from incubation and growing to slaughtering, cutting, chilling and freezing. Each EC-approved packing house has an on-site laboratory to maintain quality levels.

B.S.A.'s range of further processed items runs the gamut from raw marinades and enrobed specialties to hams and salami. Other products include turkey portions, Barbary duck, poussin, guinea fowl, quail, goose and goat.

Let Them Eat Frozen French Bread

Delifrance, the French milling and frozen bakery company, continues to upgrade its UK factory capacity in Wigston near Leicester. The recent installation of a Frigoscandia model GCM76 spiral freezer, which can freeze 2,500 baguettes per hour, will soon be followed by another. Thought to be one of the most advanced plants of its kind in the world, the twin-line facility is fully automated.

The Wigston factory will specialize in manufacturing par-baked frozen french bread marketed under the Delifrance and Vitofour brand names. The products will be sold mainly in the catering sector, but a portion will go to Delifrance's own retail outlets which are being set up under a franchise agreement with Whitworth's Bakeries.

This Perrier Effervesces In Frozen Fruit Business

In France, the name Perrier is not famous only for mineral water. Thanks to Jean Pierre Perrier, it is also synonomous with frozen fruits among industrial clients that procure same for further processing.

The 22-year-old company, which employs 120 workers, has evolved into one of Europe's major players in the field. Indeed, it recently entered into a joint venture with Senoble, France's fourth largest dairy with over 1,200 employees. The latter is tapping Perrier for its knowhow in adding value to fruit products.

Perrier has progressed steadily since starting as a regional fruit depot operator in the Ardeche. The company branched out into making regional deliveries before getting into processing. Today it runs 10 coldstores and fruit-cleaning facilities as well as processing and fruit dehydrating plants.

Slicing and dicing is Perrier's forte. It also concentrates on making frozen and aseptic fruit purees, of which some 15,000 tons are turned out annually.

About 95% of Perrier's raw material is sourced locally. Export markets loom large for the company, representing 40% of sales. EC customers account for almost all trade, with Italy taking 35% of exports. Twenty-five percent goes to Germany, and 10% to the UK. The rest is shipped to the Benelux, Switzerland, Spain and Scandinavia.

New HQ for Ardovries

Frozen vegetable specialist Ardovries has moved into a new office building in Ardooie, Belgium. The ultra-modern facility will enable its occupants to more efficiently administer growing, harvesting, processing, freezing and sales operations.

The company runs two production plants in Belgium (at Ardovries and Hesbayefrost) and a third in south-west France (ALS/France Sud). Broccoli and haricot beans were produced in the late summer. Next year's crop will also include maize and bell peppers.

Enjoying double-digit growth this year, Ardovries is looking to maintain the pace in 1994. Up to half its output is packed under private labels, with the remainder carrying Ardo and sister company brands. Primary markets are in Germany, the UK and France, with Spain coming on strong. Exports are also shipped to Italy, Greece, Holland, Scandinavia and Japan.

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Title Annotation:News From Europe; includes related articles
Author:Davis, Mary
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Plenty of choice for Dutch shoppers sharpens competition in QFF sector.
Next Article:Another acquisition by Brake Bros. turns the focus on to UK merger scene.

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