French Baguettes: They Rule the World!

Baguettes are among the most popular types of bread in the whole world. What makes it so appealing, and what adjustments does it offer on global markets? And how did one bread become a symbol, an essential part of the brand of a country?

Its measurements are: 55-65 cm long, and it weighs 250-300 grams. It consists of four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. According to the French Bread Decree from 1993, a traditional baguette must follow certain rules. Besides having a precise size and weight, it cannot be frozen or contain additives. In addition, it must be prepared, baked and sold in the same place – the boulangerie.

Origins

The French word baguette originates from the Italian bacchetto, which comes from Latin baculum (staff). It became a synonym with the long French loaf of bread at the beginning of the 20th century. While there are many stories about the invention of the baguette, it could have had something to do with the fact that it was impossible for bakers to make fresh, round loaves, due to a French law that forbid bakers to work from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in the 1920s. A thin, long loaf was a perfect solution, because it needed less time to be baked.

The shape and size as they are today, were established at the beginning of the 20th century, but the baguette was known long before. In fact, some descriptions from 19th century mention French servants heading home from the bakery, holding a bread that was sometimes almost two meters long! Later, the length was made more practical and in line with the current law.

What makes baguettes so attractive?

Their shape is practical. It has an ideal shape; a baguette can be sliced, which makes it ideal for bruschetta and finger food. Slices can be cut diagonally, too, making them larger and a good base for sandwiches. It can also be cut by length and used to make a hearty sandwich to go.

Their texture is unique. The traditional baguette is baked in a steam oven, at a high temperature and for a short amount of time. That procedure makes the finished bread crunchy on the outside and soft inside.

Its story defines the baguette. Now, more than ever, the storytelling is one of the most important parts of making a product visible, wanted and needed. Baguettes had a story long before it was popular. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of French culture, and has been observed, adored and photographed by tourists since the beginning of 1900s. They are elegant and unusual.

Wally Olins, a British expert in branding and identity, once defined the concept as: “Branding (…) is about belonging. Belonging to a tribe, to a religion, to a family. Branding demonstrates that sense of belonging. It has this function for both the people who are part of the same group, and also for the people who don’t belong.” According to this definition, the baguette is an ideal example of a brand. French culture and cuisine are appreciated across the globe, and what is a better symbol than a loaf of thin, crunchy bread? People want to belong to the French culture, they want to taste and embrace it. Even the action of buying a baguette gets them one step closer to that ideal. On the other hand, learning from French master bakers gives professionals prestige and authority in the field.

Adjustments for global markets

If the traditional French rules defining baguettes were global, many of us wouldn’t have the opportunity to indulge them. By using these rules as a base and altering the baguette, bakers and bakeries worldwide can offer their consumers a product for every occasion.

Baguettes can be found in in-store bakeries as freshly baked. They can also be bought frozen and pre-baked.

Baguette’s size and shape are also a matter of preference, as well as its ingredients. One can easily find white as well as brown baguettes with added seeds. Just to be clear, those varieties can also be found in France, but are named differently. For instance, Schulstad Bakery Solutions, part of the Lantmännen Unibake Group, offers over 70 products under the baguette group. Besides standard baguettes – 57 centimeter-long and 270 grams in weight, it offers 26-centimeter-long variants, demi-baguette, French batard, piccolo coupe and petit pain; a whole range of sizes – and many of them come in different flavors and textures.

In Croatia, the baguette is called (translated) French bread, and baguette is the name for a bread half the size of the classic product. There are many interpretations of the name and product worldwide, adapted to fit the local cultures and perception of this particular bread.

A South Korean bakery chain built an impressive presence across the globe by adopting a French style and name. It is called the Paris Baguette and currently has more than 3,700 franchises across the world, including in France! The company was established in 1986 as the Paris Croissant, but in two years, it grew into the Baguette. Despite the fact that their focus is not on French bread, but rather on pastries and coffee, it is impressive how a wisely chosen name with positive connotation can make such impact on investors and end consumers equally.

In the United States, many bakeries use the same, “French” appeal to build trust and connect to the consumers. Also, some French companies expanded on this market and adapted their offering to the needs of the domestic buyers. One of them is Le Petit Francais. It is a part (and a brand) of the France-based Boulangerie Neuhauser. For the American market, the brand has a small portfolio of four prebaked products. In comparison, for the domestic, French market, the same company has an impressive portfolio of breads for in-store bakeries, including several baguettes from which the two are copyrighted (!). They also offer a range of prepackaged bread, but, as expected, there are no baguettes.

Delifrance (again, a global company with “France” in its name) recognized the potential of a longer lasting bread. In 1978, it invented “the first quick-frozen baguette”, and started a frozen bakery business. Today, the company is present in over 20 countries across the globe.

In conclusion, it is astonishing to see how one bread shaped how the others see an entire country. It is also remarkable how one country takes its bread so seriously that it needs to constantly improve and add new laws ensure that the brand will be preserved. Some flexibility was introduced in 2015, allowing bakers to take a summer off. However, they need to put the notice in the shop window, informing the buyers about the nearest open bakery. In many countries, the same note is mandatory for general practitioners. In France, the same goes for bakers – they need to provide fresh baguettes daily, and this necessity is viewed just as important as services physicians provide.

Bon appetit!

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