Four delicious days of baking and pastry innovation in Paris
By Colleen Cross
Imagine your dream kitchen arranged just so, with a good flow and every tool and ingredient exactly where you need it. Look up and see a stash of formulas, cookbooks and manuals all within easy reach.
Add to this picture access to the advice and experience of more than 52,000 other professional bakers (one-third of them from 140 countries including France), industry experts and a ready supply of products from 469 companies and representatives who know those products inside out – and you’ll have a pretty good picture of Europain 2018.
The well-established industry event, held every two years, turned the Paris-Nord Villepinte exhibition centre into one giant, sweet-smelling bakery lab, café and theatre for four delicious days from Feb. 3 to 6. The show served as a hub for new products, innovations, information on industry trends, baking and pastry skill development and competition hubbub.
While the scale of the event could easily overwhelm a visitor, the thoughtful organization of the show made it a great place to learn. A central forum for trend talks was surrounded by exhibitors organized into three general areas – manufacturing, managing and selling. This buzzing baking landscape was dotted by demonstration booths and anchored at three corners by exciting competitions announced by the sound of exuberant air horns and pulsating, upbeat music.
The Forum at the centre of the show was the setting for lively discussions that covered bakery manufacturing, management and sales. Helpfully translated into English for the first time, these discussions provided a window into current trends and research in the baking industry and advice aimed primarily at the independent bakery/café. This writer clapped on a translation headset and took in a selection of panels.
One of the more serious and candid discussions focused on current bread nutrition research. A panel led by Christophe Girardet, founder of Victor & Compagnie bakery, and Matthieu Labbé, general delegate for the Fédération des Entreprises de Boulangerie (FEB), a professional organization for bakers, tackled the concerning issue of the growing demand for gluten-free bread and the growing customer base with digestibility problems and what these mean for bakers.
Labbé and Girardet agreed it’s important to listen to customers’ needs and try to meet them through adjustments in baking methods and sharing of up-to-date scientific research. They also agreed that a shortage of reliable science is a major obstacle to this kind of innovation. What science we do have to back up the need for change is also a long time in the making, Labbé said, citing an FEB study on bread digestion that won’t be published until 2019. The national agronomy association also has made some headway in research on glutamate, Girardet said, but this is expected to take another two to three years to publish.
“As a baker, is nutrition foremost in your mind?” Girardet was asked. He said it is very much on his mind as the perception of bread is changing. In the face of so much media attention, it’s important to analyze the information you encounter, he said. For Girardet, the issue is digestibility and how the body digests food. He was surprised it took a year just to see what science is out there.
There are three main steps in the process, Girardet said: kneading,
fermenting and baking. Bakers want to know if any of these steps leads to better digestion. If they knew more, they could adjust their processes. They want to test hypotheses but need partners, he said.
Labbé said in the case of gluten-free eating, it is not a fad, but the industry lacks reliable information. Several organizations are trying to understand the science behind it, but that research takes time.
Girardet said the fact that people want information makes him think he can do something to change his formulations and how he talks to customers. People ask him if gluten is dangerous and he needs to know how to answer them. Girardet confided he was scared at first by the implications of the gluten-free until he began to consider offering them. When 10 per cent of your customers want something, you need to respond, he concluded.
Labbé said the association feels the responsibility of educating bakers and to that end does training on various allergens and has developed an app bakers can use to educate their customers. The user-friendly app, tells bakers how much gluten is in a given product such as a croissant. “We have to be prepared,” he said.
We learned that the FEB is conducting research on sourdough as a potential solution to the digestibility problem. The association will share the results with the industry at large expected in 2019.
“We are trying to respond to demand and have had good results so far. At the moment the customers asking for it are a marginal group,” Girardet said. The overriding question for him: “How low can you go in gluten and still have good bread?”
Selling: Bakery Design Trends
Sylvie Amar, founder of Sylvie Amar Studios, travels the world monitoring trends in bakery décor. She shared some of her findings at a well-attended session.
Environment is becoming very important, Amar said. She is seeing changes in how bakeries are organized, examples of which include long rooms featuring shelves on one side and a central island that allows customers a way to explore products much as they would in a fine food store. This requires you to manage traffic in a very different way, Amar noted.
On the decoration side, different shapes and sizes of bread are serving as décor, she said. Traditional baskets are giving way to wall display units. High walls filled with bread give an “impression of accumulation” and encourage storytelling. Also popular is a raw, unprocessed look. An eclectic mix of seating is more and more common. “It’s very subliminal,” she said. “You’re telling people that each time they come back it will be a different experience.”
Eric Kayser is an example of a growing trend of bakeries with a small service area and lots of room to sit down, accommodating families and tourists. Mirabelle in Denmark is an example of a small, intimate and relaxed bakery that encourages guest to linger.
The consultant said the self-service model is popular everywhere but France, where being served gives an impression of quality. With self-service, cleanliness takes on added importance and sanitary prongs or pliers become must-haves, she said.
The most important thing is branding, Amar said. “If you don’t build a consistent brand and tell your story, your bakery will miss the point.”
She encouraged bakers to look to Asia for forward-thinking inspiration. “Asians understand storytelling, which consists of values, heritage and story,” she said. “If you can’t be consistent, people will sense that.” Consistency will make your team stronger and attract new talent. Today it’s all about communities and tribes.”
An audience member wondered how to make her bakery’s story about authenticity and artisan products. Amar advised that if authenticity is your hook you have to be almost a purist. You must tell customers about the mill the flour came from and highlight the origin of your products.
Managing: Digital Marketing Intel
Digital start-up One Baguette was at the forum to give operators tips on how to draw in customers through social media without stepping out of the kitchen too often. Company co-founder Arthur Ménard said they have developed a specialty in bakeries simply by working with many in the sector. Ménard and his team coach businesses by teaching them three steps: how to communicate with customers and encourage them to follow you on social media; how to publish posts at the right time of day, and how to develop a program to get the posting done, preferably ahead of time.
Things have changed on Facebook, he explained. Users are now finding it not only helpful but also necessary to pay for posts – what’s known as a boost – in order to reach a wider circle of potential customers. After testing unpaid and paid posts, they have gone exclusively the paid route since January 2018. One Baguette has its own algorithm. When a particular post is doing well, employees push it to both old and new customers through a paid boost.
Although it may take two to six months, social media marketing will create customers, the entrepreneur said. As for content, he encouraged bakers to pull back the curtain and give customers a glimpse of what bakers do every day, noting that a window into a world that is a mystery to them – what bakers take for granted – has a lot of appeal.
Selling: U.S. Market Trends
Three bakery industry pros took the stage to provide insights into the U.S. bakery landscape: Amy Scherber, chief executive officer and founder of Amy’s Bread, a popular New York City bakery that serves handmade artisanal breads, cookies, cakes and pastries; Pascal Rigo, founder of La Boulange, an empire of restaurants, wholesale and retail bakeries in California; Michel Suas, founder of San Francisco Baking Institute.
How much bread do Americans eat and when do they eat? Suas said there is a real focus on health including whole grains, and viennoisserie. Viennoisserie is popular in part because of the growth of coffee shops. Sandwiches are extremely popular and pain au chocolat seemed to explode in popularity overnight.
Scherber said her customers like sourdough, whole-wheat and whole-grain breads. She reported selling a lot of white baguettes both through retail and wholesale. “The wholesale business is picking up,” she said. “People want smaller loaves but a variety.” Other big sellers at Amy’s Bread are fruit tartlets and old-fashioned layer cakes.
Rigo said things haven’t changed that much since he opened for business in the mid-1990s. Toast in the morning and sandwiches for lunch are still popular, although bread represents only two per cent of his customers. Rigo put things into perspective by describing the U.S. market, at about 3,700 bakeries, as much smaller than that of France, which has some 22,000 bakeries.
With so much competition, especially from large manufacturers, “You can’t sell only bread,” Scherber said. “Millennials don’t want to buy a ‘boring’ loaf of bread. They want fancy viennoisserie they can photograph and share on social media.” She also sells coffee and added a communal table. “It’s important to give people a place to sit,” she said. “Millennials don’t like to sit together but they will.”
Suas picked up on the coffee partnership adding that bakers can do well with a tea or coffee shop where desserts are mostly consumed on the premises.
Scherber said an attractive display is important but you have to make sure products aren’t crushed. She acknowledged she struggles to come up with something new on a regular basis.
When the moderator brought up the cronut craze, Suas countered with another craze: the Kouign-amann, a round, crusty cake that hails from the Brittany region of northwestern France that contains layers of butter and sugar folded in, a bit like puff pastry but with fewer layers. “You have to change it and make it much lighter and less dense” for the U.S. market, he said. Americans like to try different things, he added, pointing to what he wryly referred to as a travesty: the banana-chocolate croissant.
Scherber said she has noticed a disconnect between wanting healthy food and total indulgence. And people will pay for that indulgence. “There is interest in spending a little more and being happy with your treat.”
Suas said many chefs from restaurants are opening pastry shops. You can’t be too exotic or customers will be intimidated, he said.
The panellists’ advice for French bakers looking to get into the market seems good advice for bakers with aspirations in any region.
Suas: Be humble. Don’t be afraid to adapt and change for the market. Make an effort to learn the English and communicate in the language of your customers. Don’t try to convert customers to your culture and adapt to the raw materials at hand (for example, flour in the U.S. is stronger and butter is different).
Scherber: Finding the perfect balance of price and quality is important with minimum wage on the rise. She sells products at a range of prices.
Rigo: There is a lot of opportunity to open more high-quality shops in North America.
Elsewhere on the show floor, several sponsored demo areas provided interactive learning. The Bakery Restaurant shop helped visitors visualize expansion by serving up a fully functional restaurant bakery shop complete with a friendly catering space and the latest digital technologies. The Baker’s Lab drew visitors keen to learn new techniques and creative ideas with fast-paced demonstrations from the best schools and top names in French and international baking. The Intersuc lab hosted pastry, chocolate and ice-cream demonstrations performed by holders of the MOF distinction, pastry champions, and pastry chefs working in shops and restaurants. Among notable and tasty demos observed was a session on vegan gluten-free cookie making by Céline Barthod and Alexandra Chaillat of L’Atelier des Lilas.
New products and services were highlighted in a special guide, at each booth and on the show’s useful custom app. Depending on what you were looking for, all this cross-referencing made it easy to suss out each exhibitor, narrow your visits to certain types of products or follow a virtual trail of new products that included award winners.
Here is a snapshot of some innovative products on display in the three floor areas:
- Linum Europe (winner) presented Flui, a water doser that shuts off the water as soon as the set quantity is reached.
- Sasa Demarle (winner) highlighted its modular trolley shelves used for storage, to save space and to advertise are versatile and easily reconfigured.
- Sofinor (winner) got a few second looks based on a clever electrically adjustable table – the Adjus’table – that adapts to a baker’s height or disability.
- Moulins Bourgeois (visitors’ award) impressed visitors with Les Carrés, a single plate of eight bread moulds that aims to make loading and turning easier and products consistent.
- Thunderbird has a new dough divider meant to be a time saver for smaller bakeries that also will round the dough.
- MIWE Michael Wenz (winner) representatives showed visitors the company’s shop baking suite, a software tool that lets bakers manage, monitor and synchronize your systems’ data remotely.
- Bridor’s chefs were churning out the company’s new spiral, shaped Bun ‘n’ Roll and Créations d’Honoré ready-to-proof Viennese pastries for sampling. The latter line, we were told, are made with wheat sourdough and contain a large proportion of milk to complement the increasingly scarce and expensive butter content.
- Valrhona presented passion fruit and strawberry additions its line of fruit couvertures created using natural flavours and colours.
- Andros Ingredients had its All Clean Bake lemon cream filling, raspberries with seed filling and purple fig fruit compote to use in simple desserts or as raw material for inserts.
- Euralax (winner) demonstrated for Bakers Journal its motorized convertible shop display case that switches from sales behind a counter to open self-service in seconds.
- Indutex (winner) recently adapted its Softouch anti-slip paper specifically for cake transport. The innovative material stabilizes cake in its box during transportation.
- Les celliers associés (winner) refreshed visitors with its three apple cider flavours – dry, sweet and raspberry – by Val de Rance.
- Box Italy showed its self-assembling box, which is available in nearly 100 formats.
- Maé’s Sil’Tip bread marker mat lets bakers identify their breads with up to six logos or illustrations on or under dough or as a stencil for conventional sieving.
- Emballine’s booth was showcasing its Cameleon line of box labels for spring – and bursting with “fèves” (roughly translating to beans) or tiny, dainty porcelain prizes that in the French tradition are hidden in cakes for special occasions.
An elite group of 18 bakers from around the world competed in the World Master Baker competition, organized by Lesaffre, in one of three categories of bread making: nutritional, gourmet and artistic.
Peter Bienefelt of the Netherlands claimed top marks for nutritional bread making;
Déborah Ott of France took top marks for gourmet baking and Peng Chieh Wang of Taiwan won artistic bread making on the strength of a stunning warrior sculpture.
Alan Dumonceaux, chair of the baking program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), and Marcus Mariathas, senior director of product development for ACE Bakery in Toronto, did Canada proud in the categories of Gourmet Baking and Nutritional Bread respectively.
In another corner of the hall, teams from 16 countries competed in the International Confectionery Art Competition, sponsored by DGF. Entrants wowed the jury and audience with their takes on the theme of French luxury. In 19 hours, they made 20 plated desserts, 20 individual small ice cream cakes, two types of confectionery, four entremets, a sugar centrepiece, a chocolate centrepiece and a sugar and chocolate presentation stand.
Top marks went to Marie Simon and Loïc Beziat of France. Malaysia took second place and Singapore rounded out the podium.
Stéphanie Blouin and Sébastien Camus competed as Team Canada, crafting, among other delights, a French poodle sculpture to illustrate the theme. Yves Marie Rolland, Chef Pâtissier at Paillard in Quebec City, served on the jury.
The French Schools Cup, organized by EKIP and sponsored ENGIE, gave culinary school students a chance to demonstrate their skills in bakery, viennoiserie and pastry arts. Mixed teams of three participants competed in two categories: “Hopefuls” and “Excellence.” In the Excellence category, the Faculté des Métiers de Kerlann in Bruz topped the podium. Top Hopefuls were a team from IFI 03 in Avermes.
Leaving the bustling show required visitors to walk by much promising work by culinary students, including a lovely tiered cake inspired by Christian Louboutin shoes (not choux!) and provided a fitting exit to the Paris show that welcomed the world.
Europain will return to Paris in 2020.