food / travel

Asia's Paradoxical Battle For The French Baguette

Though French bread and pastries have become popular across Asia, French chains have had trouble breaking in. Now one Korean boulangerie is opening up in Paris.

Baguettes are the stars in Asia
Baguettes are the stars in Asia
Yann Rousseau

TOKYO — The wooden decoration is elegant, the storefronts are filled with custard tarts, jambon-beurre (ham and butter) sandwiches and quiches. There's even French music playing. Two steps away from Tokyo's central train station, the brand new Brioche Dorée shop aims to give its customers the full-on French experience.

The chain founded by Louis Le Duff already has more than 500 shops across Europe and North America. But Brioche Dorée is just starting to open locations in Asia, where the growing pain au chocolat market has until now been solely in the hands of powerful regional groups.

The streets of Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Hanoi are jammed with bakeries with names such as Paris Gâteaux, Vie de France, Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours, almost always decorated with the blue-white-red flag and Eiffel Towers. But none of these shops is actually French.

"We're lagging behind our Asian competitors," explains François-Xavier Colas, who's heading the new Asia strategy for the Le Duff group. "The Japanese and Koreans understood very early on the huge potential of the bakery market."

In Japan, he opened the second Brioche Dorée shop last moth. Seven were inaugurated in South Korea and two in China. Another bakery chain, Paul, has 12 shops across Southeast Asia and is planning to open six more before the end of 2015.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, all former French colonies, do consume bread, but until recently it wasn't part of the regional diet, which is dominated by rice and noodles. Traditionally, people in China, Korea and Malaysia ate small brioche rolls, often stuffed with mince meat, and steamed. White bread didn't reach Japan until after World War II, when the U.S. started to deliver wheat to the country, then faced with severe food shortages.

French-style bread didn't come to Japan until the 1960s, when Raymond Calvel, a globetrotter and professor of baking at the National Graduate School of Milling introduced it. He brought to Tokyo young "baguette missionaries" who established themselves in the 1980s. Other Frenchmen later developed their own networks, with Maison Kayser now the most significant in Asia.

Their Asian competitors are already operating several thousand shops and want to conquer markets around the world. Tous les Jours, a creation of Korean conglomerate CJ Foodville, has 1,280 bakeries in South Korea and 160 abroad. In China, the Philippines and Vietnam, its shops, decorated with light wood and red brick, sell cheese fougasses, almond croissants and apple-gorgonzola-filled brioches.

Also from South Korea, Paris Baguette hopes to become the McDonald’s of bakeries, with plans to multiply its presence from its 3,200 national shops and 200 abroad to a total of more than 6,000 shops in 60 different countries by the end of 2020. "I'll do everything so that Korea earns the reputation of being the world's Mecca for bread and pastry," Hur Young-in, chairman of the SPC Group, which owns Paris Baguette, declared last year. A few weeks before that, he opened its first bakery in Paris, of all places.

Baguettes being delivered in Quang Nam province, Vietnam — Photo: Norton Ip

While politely praising the French bakery tradition, he's betting on globalization mixing together cultural and gastronomical identities, and is convinced that a good marketing model will enable him to build himself global "French" legitimacy.

Its Parisian shop, which is expected to attract primarily Asian tourists visiting the French capital, is already featured in the group's ad campaigns. A little bit of accordion, images of the Eiffel Tower and hand-kneaded dough.

SPC established itself as a market leader by applying to bakeries the recipes for success behind large South Korean conglomerates in electronics, car manufacturing and naval construction. To secure its expansion, the group acquired Mildawon, a large Korean flour producer, in 2008. Then, as it prepared its expansion, SPC was the first Korean producer to import French wheat to transform locally into flour, convinced as they are that the French cereal is the best suited to produce a crispy crust for its baguettes and other traditional country breads. As for the rest of its ingredients, the group has signed partnerships with South Korean farms, especially in the Pyeongchang county, where it gets, for example, the strawberries for its cakes, thus enabling the company to “reinforce the quality and homogeneity of its products,” as one market analyst noted.

Together with its Asian competitors Tous les Jours and Bread Talk, SPC and its Paris Baguette brand are now looking to expand their business abroad. “These groups can rely on their strong national base to conquer the world. No French company can boast a similar national foundation. That’s probably a problem shared by a lot of French companies, in various sectors,” says Jean-Pierre Erba, Paul’s CEO for Asia and the Pacific.

But while acknowledging the might of their Asian rivals, French bakers believe this boost will feed their own growth. “If they ‘stole’ our products, it’s because the Asian public likes what we have to offer,” says François-Xavier Colas from Brioche Dorée. “The clients are fully aware of the brands and authenticity. They want French quality at a good price."

Jean-Pierre Erba emphasizes that the bread at every Paul’s is made on location. “Asian groups are targeting a mass market but we’re aiming more at an established, more mature clientele that can tell one product from another,” he said.

Still, a key to success for the French producers is the need for a local partner. “It’s indispensable,” explains François-Xavier Colas. “A local partner can help us in our relations with the administration, in understanding local legislation or in the negotiations to obtain new shops with normal conditions.”

On May 1, Colas inaugurated a Brioche Dorée shop in a large Seoul store with its South Korean partner Daewoo, which has offered to open a total of 90 bakeries in the country. Meanwhile, in Japan, Brioche Dorée is relying on Suntory to obtain the promised 105 shops in the next ten years. “There’s a certain French arrogance in believing we can do everything by ourselves in this region,” Colas concludes. “It’s probably what’s stopping French companies from conquering these markets.”

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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