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Just what really is a snack, anyway? In France, definition is hard to pin down: the unofficial test seems to be that if you can fix it quick and eat it quick, it's a snack. Beyond that, just about anything goes--from double-barreled hot dogs to tortilla wraps.

What's in a name? In France there seems to be a consensus that snacking is on the increase, but there is no generally accepted definition of a snack.

After talking to consumers and to managers of freezer centers, Quick Frozen Foods International reached the conclusion that the key in France to whether or not an item is a snack is rapidity of preparation and consumption. Given these characteristics, one can only conclude that the category is very broad and that frozen foods will tend to rest marginal in the area.

With the exception of ice cream and sherbet, one cannot buy a frozen item and eat it on the spot unless a means of cooking or at least heating it is available. However, to the advantage of frozen snacks, it can be pointed out that most French people do not like to snack while walking around. They prefer to sit at a table.

Apart from the lunch period, snacking during the working day is not a habit. People do not eat at their desks in mid-morning or mid-afternoon as in the USA and other countries. In a lounge or lunchroom at work, a microwave may be available. Furthermore, the majority of snacks are actually consumed at home, where they can be easily prepared.

Certain frozen items in French freezer centers and hyper/supermarkets obviously fit the category of snacks, as they are sandwiches--or resemble them. Many others may be consumed as snacks, as a manager of a Picard store in Lyon noted. Items in the bakery line, appetizers, entrees, ice creams in cups or on sticks, can all be eaten as snacks.

Among the obvious snacks, introduced more than a year ago, are 2 Pizza Sandwiches at the freezer center Thiriet. The products sell very well, a store manager told this reporter. They come in Texan, 3 Cheeses, and Royale (ham, mushroom and cheese) varieties. A package costs 3.99 euros and weighs 310 grams. The product must first be heated one minute in a microwave to thaw it, and then three minutes in a toaster, or 12 minutes in total in a traditional oven. Provided with a cardboard sleeve, the sandwich can be eaten in "nomad" fashion, as the French put it.

Also easy to eat on the go are the Hot Pockets introduced by Maggi in 2004, and a Hot Dog with mustard from Picard. The Hot Dog consists of two long thin sausages (beef and pork) embedded in bread, which surrounds and separates the two. The Hot Pockets, which now come in tomato/mozzarella, spinach/goat cheese, three cheeses, as well as ham/cheese, require 2.5 minutes in a microwave; and the hot dog needs 3.5 minutes of zapping. On the hot dog package, the words Formule Snack are superimposed on an arrow, and two hands holding the hot dog underline the fact that the food can be eaten while walking.

McCain Alimentaire S.A. is selling, under the "les Moments McCain" banner, what it calls the Original Sandwich. QFFI found two flavors at an Auchan store in the Quatre Temps shopping center at the Defense outside Paris: ricotta cheese-vegetables-chicken, and grilled vegetables-ham-goat cheese.

On the package a picture of a hand holding the sandwich in a cardboard sleeve again underscores the fact that the product can be consumed while one walks. A sandwich weighs 150 grams and costs 1.96 euros. The bright yellow background to the pictures on the box is attention-getting. The pack text states that the frozens "are new in the world of sandwiches," and a "good idea when one needs a fast and practical meal, hot and complete. Three minutes in the microwave and it is ready. Taste it."

A completely different product from McCain, Frit'Up has become a hit, particularly among young people. The product received an Oscar from LSA for innovation in marketing.

The french fries are packaged in a 90 gram box. Consumers remove the plastic film from the box and place the container inside in a microwave for 2.5 minutes to prepare the fries. With the film removed, the top of the box is open and the bottom is aerated by holes. Once the fries have been heated, they can be eaten one by one.

They are on sale in most major food stores, and Picard has a similar looking private label under the name "Fries-to-Go." A 90-gram package retails for 0.85 euros.

Charal, which specializes in meat, has introduced 4 Tortillas Wraps under its label Micro1One. This reporter found the Wraps in several flavors at a Carrefour, and sampled Recette Meridionale, a tasty combination of slices of beef with tomato concentrate, squash, onions and peppers. The base of the tortillas was firmly folded up and the contents remained together to facilitate hand-held eating. Only 95 seconds in the microwave are required for preparation.

Picard in its Cuisine Evasion (Cooking Escape) line is selling 2 Burritos au boeuf, which the box explains are garnished wheat pancakes. Since grated cheese must be added during cooking, the final result is not suitable for eating from the hand. The recipe comes from Mexico, the box further notes.

In a microwave, two burritos with cheese take five minutes, 30 seconds to heat; in a traditional oven, 22 minutes. The main ingredients in the stuffing are beef (37%), red beans (16%), tomatoes (15.8%), red peppers (15.1%) and onions (5.4%). A package of two weighs 390 grams.

Sandwiches based on buns are found in virtually all frozen food outlets, now as in previous years. One of a multitude of possible examples is Grillero's 6 Bacon Burgers, made in France by the Societe Alimentaire de Guidel. Each burger consists of a sesame seed bun, a hamburger patty, tomato sauce, cheddar cheese and bacon. The package weighs 840 grams and costs 4.99 euros. As is frequently the case with burgers, the box communicates a USA theme. Here red and white stripes, and white stars on blue recall the American flag. A single burger requires 95 seconds in a microwave or 10 minutes in a traditional oven.

McCain's Buns, prominent last year, are still very much in evidence. They are offered with a variety of stuffing. In an Ed outlet, QFFI noted the Buns in Ham with ketchup, which required only 90 seconds in a microwave to be ready to eat.

The English word "snack" is increasingly invoked in products sold in France. The Auchan at Quatre Temps is selling Billys Snack Pizza, with "Billys" in blue and white, underlined by stars. One flavor is 4 Saisons (Seasons), which consists of peppers, corn, onions, tomatoes and cheese on a rectangular crust. Weighing 170 grams, it is obviously designed to serve one person. Made in Sweden by Gunnar Dafgard ab, the product sells for 1.20 euros.

Breaded patties of meat and cheese may be considered snacks, although they would normally be eaten from a plate with a knife and fork. Gastronome sells Croq 'Up. Its 2 Croques Fromage (cheese) come in a carton that can be placed in the microwave oven after the cover has been folded back, as illustrated on the carton. Three minutes and thirty seconds of preparation time are required. Package text suggests serving the patties with salad, green beans or stew.

Bakeries are a favorite source of snacks in France. However, the products commonly sold there as snacks, Viennoiserie (croissants, pain aux raisins, pain au chocolat, etc.), can increasingly be found in other types of stores in frozen form.

This reporter picked up a bag of six frozen Pain Chocolat (bread with chocolate) at an Ed discount store. They were to be baked on a paper provided, in the center of an oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Made of pure butter (21%) as are the better bakery Viennoiserie, they are a delicious way to start the day or to revive flagging spirits later on.

Thiriet sells 6 Croissants au Beurre (Butter) with ham and cheese. Like the Pain Chocolat, they need to be prepared in an oven rather than in a microwave. The cost is 7.25 euros.

Among Picard's wide variety of breads which might be used as snacks are bagels (interestingly described as "American rolls") and 4 Petits Pains aux Figues (4 rolls with figs), precooked in a 240-gram sack. A shelf tag described the fig rolls as new, but the catalog simply noted that they were on sale--priced at 1.10 instead of 1.30 euros.

Various foods designed to serve as entrees, the first course of a full French dinner, may be eaten as snacks. They include appetizers, crepes, galettes, salty as opposed to sweet pastries, tarts and pizzas.

Appetizers are sold in quantity and would normally be shared by a group. The home-delivery company Eismann offers a somewhat unusual set of appetizers, which plays on the connection with snacks: "Asia Snackbox."

Its catalog describes them as a delicious mixture of turnovers with prawn tails, samosas, fried ravioli, and pieces of toast with prawns, heightened with sweet and sour sauce. The pastry is shaped like a kerchief tied into a bag. The appetizers require five minutes in a deep fryer or 15 minutes in an oven. A box contains 30 grains of sauce and 16 pieces that weigh a total of 270 grams, and costs 9.20 euros.

Crepes and galettes in frozen form abound. Eismann, for example, sells a Crepe Bretonne, a thin pancake folded around ham, cheese, and mushrooms--six to a box for 5.90 euros.

Leclerc offers 6 Crepes with Mushrooms and Fresh Cream, under its own label Repere and its sub-label Tante Yvonne for 1.08 euros. Folded into a half moon shape, each crepe weighs 50 grams.

Less common is an Omelette with Green Beans and Mushrooms for sale at a Leader Price in Paris. The omelet belongs to the chain's line for calorie conscious consumers, Fine Ligne. Though weighing 250 grams, it contains only 158 calories.

When QFFI tried out a variety of possible snacks with a French family, 4 Feuilletes Chevre from Mareval in Quimper, Brittany, was selected as the best of the lot. Feuilletes are puff pastries, and these particular ones contain goat cheese. A box of four weighs 240 grams and costs 2.78 euros. Puff pastry represents 60% of each feuillete, and the filling 40%, of which 60% is goat cheese. They should be heated for ten minutes in an oven at 210[degrees] C, never in a microwave, the box warns.

Reducing the size of tarts and pizzas increases the likelihood that they will be eaten as snacks. Casino has brought out a recipe for the traditional Quiches Lorraine: two individual tarts (150 grams each) for 1.57 euros. The package calls attention to the fact that the new product is made with fresh cream (19%) and fresh eggs (15%) as welt as cubes of ham (14%).

Buitoni sells cartons of Piccolinis that it describes as "frozen mini-pizzas with three cheeses." The topping is the three cheeses: mozzarella, Swiss and parmesan, mixed with cream. Nine of the pastries, 30 grams each, are in a single carton. They need to be heated in a traditional oven for nine to eleven minutes at 200[degrees] C.

Soup as a snack may seem a stretch, but Picard is deliberately positioning soup as such, having introduced a line called So Soupe back in October 2004. In its March 2000 catalog, six soups were presented on a single page, two of them from So Soupe.

For the So Soupe Carrots, Green Beans, Potatoes, it states: "Discover this balanced and tasty ... 'nomad' soup. Presented in an individual bowl, easy to carry everywhere, even to the office, it can be heated directly in a microwave. Six minutes and the odor of cooked vegetables awakens the appetite. Carefully choosing its photographs, Picard pictures this soup ready to eat, in its dish; but it shows for the other soup, Asparagus, Pasta, Smoked Ham, the front side of the cardboard sleeve in which the microwaveable bowl is packaged.

Microwaveable prepared dishes, which abound, may be considered to be snacks. In fact, when QFFI asked the manager of a Thiriet store what was available in the way of snacks, she pointed out McCain Frit'Up and Thiriet's 2 Pizza Sandwiches, and then a series of such dishes. The range to which she referred was an economy line offering bowls of food requiring six to seven minutes in the microwave. The recipes included Tagliatele h la Bolognaise and Legumes h la Mediterraneenne au Poulet (Vegetables in Mediterranean Style with Chicken). The price for a 300 gram container 2.50 euros.

For this writer, a dessert can serve as a snack; and at least some French people agree. School children traditionally have something sweet to eat, or "le gouter," when they come home from school in the afternoon. Health officials have been trying to educate the public and producers that these snacks should not be heavy with sugars and fats.

In a four page spread of products for "le gouter" in the February issue of LSA, the only frozen product seen was Zebra Safari from Miko. It is an ice of skimmed milk on a stick. The name comes from the fact that the product alternates stripes of vanilla and chocolate.

Producers are increasingly offering adults dessert choices that enable them to eat sweets as snacks without having to feel guilty, or at least, very guilty. An example is Picard's Les Mini-Pots Plaisir et Mieux-Etre, a light desert in vanilla, chocolate, or coffee, without any added fat. Each of the two pots equals 250 ml and provides 82 calories. The desserts do contain aspartame, but perhaps not much since they have a strong, somewhat bitter, chocolate taste.

Nevertheless, sweet pastries with their full complement of calories remain a temptation. An Intermarche in Paris sells 12 Mini Eclairs, vanilla filling with chocolate on top, under the Poppies brand; and 4 Eclairs parfum Chocolat and 4 Eclairs au Cafe from Brossard.

QFFI sampled Brossard's Chocolate Eclair, which were filled with a chocolate cream made of fresh eggs and cream, and topped with a chocolate glaze. Their quality actually makes them more suitable for serving to guests than for a casual snack. They do not need to be heated, simply thawed. In this they are a pleasant exception, as they can be enjoyed by the traveler without access to a source of heat.

In the lobby of an Intermarche in Paris a combination microwave and mini oven was available for use free of charge. Presumably it was intended for customers of the store's bakery, which was on the opposite side of the lobby, but no one paid any attention when this writer used it to heat two sleeves of Hot Pockets.

Many lunch rooms in businesses and educational institutions already have microwaves. Should opportunities to heat items become more widely available at stores, producers of frozen snacks should have fine days ahead of them in terms of ringing up increased retail sales.
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Title Annotation:HANDY & DANDY
Author:Davis, Mary
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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