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Frozen bakery products in France winning over consumers en masse.

Don't look now, but another pillar of French cuisine is being shored up by the solid support of frozen food technology. From bread and croissants to sweet pastries, the quality is second to none.

The average French consumer believes that bread and pastry products should be freshly baked. The concept of frozen bread and patisseries lacks appeal in the land of haute cuisine. Nevertheless, the French eat large quantities of formerly frozen bakery products without being aware of their original form.

Neighborhood restaurants frequently procure frozen bakery products and have them delivered fresh so that they can avoid obeying the strict regulations for storing frozen foods. Many small bakery and pastry shops buy croissants and other similar items uncooked and frozen. Fast food chains that specialize in baked goods normally utilize frozen products exclusively -- either completely raw or already risen.

In France, because bakers and pastry makers find it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified assistants, the profession is gradually shifting from the level of individual craftsmanship to that of industrial production. Thus the behind-the-scenes use of frozen breads and pastries is growing, particularly in the area known as viennoiserie: croissants, pain au chocolate, pain aux raisins, etc.

At the same time, frozen bakery and pastry items are coming out into the open. Many are already established in freezer centers and home delivery services. Now the large volume outlets are increasingly taking on frozens. Most in evidence are what the French call tartes salees, or salted, unsweetened pies. But other types of frozen baked goods are also available.

Quiches are still a favorite for lunch and as an entree in a complete dinner. They come in many flavors beside the Quiche Lorraine so well known abroad, and are far from the only component of the "tartes salees" segment to which they belong. Findus, for example, is marketing Quiche a la Lyonnaise with potatoes, Lyon sauce, onions, and chives. Quiche Feuilletee (quiche on puff pastry) is a new product of Maitre Feuillade, a Saveurs de France brand. The flavors are Quiche Lorraine, Bresse Blue Cheese/Leek, and Chicken/Mushroom.

Vivagel sells a Souffleed Tart with Four Cheeses. The product is 65% topping, of which 29% is cheese (white cheese, Swiss cheese, comte, Rap'Velay), plus whole eggs and powdered skim milk.

Findus is also selling a Tourte a la Bourgignonne with beef (500 grams for 29.60 francs). Brossard (a brand of Grand Metropolitan, which recently bought the frozen pastries of Belin) offers a Tart with Salmon and Sorrel (430 grams, 27.90 francs).

Traditionally, a quiche is pastry topped with bits of ham and a mixture of cream and eggs; a tourte is pastry with meat, fish or vegetables and an upper as well as a lower crust; and a tart is an open pastry, with cream or fruit. However, in actual practice distinctions become blurred.

Unsalted tarts vary in size. The most popular products are made both for individuals and for groups or families. The former are usually sold in packages of two or more. Gorcy offers a Sea Food Quiche in a package of two 150-gram pastries (15.10 francs) and as a single, 400-gram item (19.50 francs). Picard freezer centers, which sell both own label and name brand products, offer five small and seven large quiche/tarts in their own name. Their Quiche Lorraine comes as 180-gram pastries in a box of two (15.90 francs) or in a box of four (27.00 francs) and as a single 400-gram item (15.10) francs).

Also available in individual and family sizes are Picard's Tart with Leeks and its Onion-Ham Tart. Tarts to be shared are all 400 grams, but a trend in France towards very big, family-size dishes is reflected in some of the pastries coming on the market.

Two new Vivagel products weigh 700 grams each: a Tart in the Old Manner with onions, ham, and fresh cream, and a Quiche Lorraine. Vivagel, the major French producer of entrees, is working to reinforce its image in this field.

Made in individual portions are friands and, of course, appetizers. Friands are small pies usually consisting of puff pastry filled with ingredients like chopped meat and mushrooms. Vitacuire in Meyzieu produces packages of 10 friands with meat, as well as a related product of 10 feuilles with cheese (each package 13.90 francs). Brossard and Picard both sell packages of 30 Feuilletes Aperitifs. Picard's cost 25.70 francs and contain pizza, cheese, salmon, and scallop appetizers. It also offers as appetizers mini-tarts: quiche, spinach, pizza, and scallops (24 pieces for 26.80 francs); and Brossard, Gougeres aperitifs stuffed with cheese (comte, goat, roquefort, Swiss), garlic, and fine herbs (24 for 32.20). Gougeres are a type of cake.

Frozen Feuilletes

An addition to the three categories of tarts, tourtes, and quiches that is gaining in popularity as a frozen offering is puff pastry envelopes known as feuilletes. Often they are small. Toque de France, under the name Croustefeuille, sells packages of four ham/mushroom feuilletes -- envelopes of puff pastries of 85 to 90 grams each -- for 12.55 francs. However, Vivagel is expanding the concept of feuilletes. It recently brought out three square Feuilletes, each of which weighs 450 grams: a Feuillete Savoyard, with comte, beaufort, and Swiss cheese; a Feuillete Parisien with ham and cheese, and a Feuillete Salmon-Prawns.

The offering in unsweetened pastries is strong, and producers are pushing their products. Vivagel this spring advertised cut-rate subscriptions to three magazines on its boxes of Salmon Tourte (500 grams for 29.40 francs at a Leclerc store.) The two-crust pie contains pieces of salmon and mushroom cooked in cream, plus carrots, white wine, onions and parsley.

Cogesal's La Tarteiliere is going a step farther with its promotion. A subsidiary of Lever Brothers, Cogesal contributed substantially in the past to making frozen unsweetened pastries popular with French consumers by heavily advertising its high quality frozen tarts. This spring, by buying a 400-gram Leek/Roquefort Quiche (17.85 francs) or even Quiche Lorraine, shoppers got a chance to win a house in sunny Provence.

Enter Patisseries

Unlike the salted tarts, frozen patisseries (sweet pastries) are only beginning to make their way into the large volume outlets, although they are quite well established in freezer centers and home delivery services. According to a recent issue of LSA, dessert pastries account for under 2% of frozen food sales in supermarkets, hypermarkets and large general stores. Ice cream desserts represent 9%. No more than 4,500 tons a year of patisseries are presently sold in the large outlets. The total consumption of fresh patisseries in France is approximately 252,000 tons annually. This means that the expanding frozen sector of the market has still more room to grow. Sales of the frozens were up 7% in volume and 20% in value in the large outlets during 1991.

The company Societe de Specialites Surgelees (3S) opened up the market for patisseries in the large volume outlets three years ago with its Delifrance label, supported by a major television advertising campaign. Jean Yonnet, commercial director, admitted in a roundtable discussion organized by Surgelation, that 3S originally tried selling low quality, low priced patisseries in the supermarkets and hypermarkets without success. Raising the quality and giving the products a celebrated name turned the tide. The company is a subsidiary of the Grands Moulins de Paris, which had already established the name "Delifrance" for frozen baked goods.

Today Delifrance must compete with upstarts that have entered the patisserie market in its wake. This spring it offered a 15-franc refund to anyone sending in a package bar code. Even with the refund, the pastries, like those of other producers, are not cheap.

Delifrance's Black Paradise, which serves six to eight people, sells for 56.30 francs, or more than US$ 10. It alternates layers of chocolate cream "mousseline" and chocolate sponge cake.

Raspberry Caprice, which also serves six to eight, costs 49.55 francs. Whole raspberries are folded into sponge cake, which is covered on top and sides with vanilla mousse, and the top of the mousse glazed with a raspberry jelly.

Also from Delifrance, lemon pie, a less exotic item, sells for 31.55 francs (510 grams), or more than $6.

To the freezer centers and home delivery services 3S delivers pastries under the name of Patigel. Boxes of four eclairs (two coffee and two chocolate), of four Paris-Brest pastries, and six berry tartlets (two raspberry, two whortleberry, and two currant) were recently on sale at Picard stores. Like salted tarts, patisseries are sold both in individual sizes and as items to be shared.

The companies beginning to give Delifrance a run for the money in the large volume outlets are Grand Metropolitan's Brossard, Sara Lee, and Lever Brothers' Cogesal. Brossard has brought out a set of elaborate desserts signed by the Parisien chef Le Notre. They include Tresor Noir: chocolate mousse with pieces of grilled hazelnuts layered with soft macaroon, and Tentation d'automne: diced pears and mousse, and bits of chestnuts and mousse on a soft macaroon (41.70 francs for 290 grams, four servings).

Sara Lee's latest offerings include three Bavarian desserts: currant, chocolate, and raspberry. The base of each is sponge cake or biscuit and is topped with mousse flavored with currants, chocolate or fresh cheese, and smothered in whole fruit or shavings of black chocolate.

Another new Sara Lee product is Cheesecake with Strawberries (500 grams, 6-8 pieces, 35.30 francs). In the American tradition, the company offers pastry and bakery products suited to a variety of occasions.

Cogesal, the last of the major companies to have entered the market, is for the present at least, concentrating on a narrower range. Under the name La Tarteliere made famous by Cogesal's unsalted tarts, it is selling pies and other bakery desserts at standard prices of 30 francs for the former and 50 francs for the latter. They are made in the Lachaise factory, which produces its own Les Delices de Ninon.

Quick Frozen Foods International sampled a box of Les Delices de Ninon's 4 Coffee Eclairs bought for 17.50 francs in a Frio freezer center in Paris. The pastry itself was light and crisp; the filling, which contrasted delightfully in texture with the pastry, was smooth, richly flavored with coffee, and not too sweet. In the view of this reporter, they were better than the eclairs sold in many pattisseries. And what is more, they cost much less at only eight francs per unit. Indeed, a French colleague, who scoffed at the offer of frozen patisseries, was won over after sampling the LaChaise product.

French consumers can make their own pastries, unsweetened or sweet, without having to struggle with turning out the pastry itself. They need just buy blocks and rolls of brisee, sablee, and feuilletee from Vitaculture, Vivagel or other companies. The latter, for example, makes available two rolls of pate feuillete (500 grams) for 9.95 francs.

Plain frozen breads are little in evidence in stores. The Picard centers, which stock as complete an array of frozen foods as any outlets, sell only 250-gram bags of ready-to-cook loaves of bread (3.80 francs), and three types of rolls, all intended for the health conscious: whole wheat rolls, country rolls, and rolls without salt (each in 50 gram bags of four servings for 5.50 francs). However, American-style specialty breads are creeping into freezer sections.

Sara Lee Brioche

Among Sara Lee products marketed is a coffee cake, sold as Brioche aux Noix de Pecan (390 grams, 27.50 francs). Brioche is a long-time popular cakey bread, but pecans are relatively new to the French palate. In a Paris Monoprix, part of a major chain of general stores, one can find muffins imported by Qualidea.

Although made in the United Kingdom, the package boasts their American lineage. The muffin cups shown on the box are bannered with US flags. The background to the plate of muffins is a picture of cowboys riding past western buttes, and the box proclaims, "American Quality: They are authentic muffins! All of America comes to your table and on all occasions. Soft as could be wished, dotted with melting cranberries, muffins are the 'peche mignon' for every age. Good appetite then, and 'bon voyage!'"

QFFI tried what was supposed to be the "traditional" flavor. This reporter found them to be more like cupcakes than muffins in texture and flavor, and a French woman who tried them thought they were overly sweet. The price seemed exorbitant: 29.50 francs for a package of four.

Much in evidence in retail stores are frozen "viennoiserie," best described as fancy, small, traditional bakery items. The most popular of these are the "croissants." While generally sold cooked, they are increasingly available in a raw form that does not need to be thawed before cooking. The croissants rise while being heated in the oven. Pani Route is among the firms selling them "a cuisson directe."

At present assortments of mini-viennoiserie are popular. QFFI sampled a bag of 12 at Picard (croissants, rolls with chocolate, and rolls with raisins, selling for 23 francs). Quality was high, as the pieces were flakey and buttery.

The Gira in 1987, after studying the market for pastry and bakery products, predicted that the production of raw frozen viennoisserie would increase approximately 160% between 1986 and '95, and it seems to be right on the mark.
COPYRIGHT 1992 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Davis, Mary B.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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