Thursday, June 11, 2009

France goes all sweet on Britain's exceedingly good cakes

France, the home of patisserie from the chocolate éclair to the profiterole, has acquired something of an appetite for British cakes and puddings.

Sales of sweet treats from these shores to French shoppers — mainly in Paris, the Riviera and Lyons — have leapt by almost 35 per cent in 12 months and are now worth £8.7 million. This surprising twist in Anglo-French relations has helped to boost food exports by 20 per cent, taking the total value of products, excluding alcohol, to £9.23 billion. When alcoholic drinks, such as whisky, are included, the total soars to £13.6 billion.

Sales of British goods in France have been driven in part by expatriate communities who miss some of their home comforts, such as Mr Kipling’s cakes — including French Fancies.

But the real winner has been to tempt French gourmands with the food they like best. The cake and pudding manufacturer Gü has built up a market worth £5 million in less than two years, selling chocolate soufflés, brownies and cheesecakes made in Walthamstow, northeast London.

James Averdieck, founder and managing director of Gü, said: “It’s amazing to sell soufflés to the French but they really appreciate our type of food. We don’t really look like a British brand, so any negative thoughts about British cuisine don’t apply.

“They like our cheesecake, our brownies and banoffee pie. We haven’t even invented new names — they like our English ones. We don’t make a crumble, but le crumble also sells well there.”

The French sweet tooth has even persuaded United Biscuits to launch a cross-Channel offensive for McVitie’s HobNobs and chocolate digestives. Growth in the market for cakes and biscuits is also being fuelled by consumers in Eastern Europe.

Chris Brockman, market research manager at Leatherhead Food International, who analysed the export data, said: “It is possible some sales have been driven by migrant workers who have returned home and taken some of our eating habits with them. These countries are also now part of the European Union and the market has also grown because there are no export tariffs. In sweet goods, the UK really is a market leader.”

Total food and drink exports to Hungary are up 74.3 per cent to £40.2 million in 12 months. In Poland sales are worth £116.4 million, up 53.6 per cent, in Latvia they are up by 51 per cent to £8.6 million, in Slovakia up by 45.2 per cent to £11.5 million and in Lithuania by 32.7 per cent to £9.7 million.

Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia and Poland are now among Britain’s top ten fastest-growing export markets. The low value of sterling against the euro has bumped up sales by helping to make British exports competitively priced, but other factors are at work — not least the inventiveness of British manufacturers.

Crisp sales, for example, have risen by 26.4 per cent to produce an export market worth £47.5 million. However, it is the high-end crisp brands, such as Kettle Chips and Tyrrell’s, that are driving the market and have even tempted the Italians, who regard eating between meals almost as a sin. Sales in Italy are up by 84.4 per cent.

The reputation of British cheese is also growing apace, with exports up 16.7 per cent to £281.5 million. One of the best cheese markets is the United States, where sales of Cheddar are up 20.1 per cent to £8.9 million. The surprise winners across the Atlantic, though, are regional cheeses such as Lancashire, Cheshire and Wensleydale, with exports up 10.8 per cent.

Japan remains one of the best markets for English products, such as jam, tea and shortbread. Mr Brockman said: “The Japanese seem to have adopted our afternoon tea and there is often a British section in stores.”

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