The Allure And Limits Of The ‘Made in France’ Label

Though proud of their food and wine, French don't have a reputation for flag waving on the industrial front. But a movement to label all products “Made in France” – complete with a tiny tri-color flag – has begun to catch on. Will it have the sam

Valérie Leboucq

PARIS – French food company Système U was pushing its "Made in France" strategy well before it became a trendy political topic with all the talk of industrial outsourcing and job preservation. The retail food cooperative calls it: "Commerce that benefits everybody."

A full 83% of Système U's food products are of French origin, boasts communications director Jean-Baptiste Hespel. The packaging of their U Saveur line even shows the exact origin of each product on a map of France, along with the name of the supplier and how many people the supplier employs.

More recently, however, the Made in France label began to (re)appear on non-food items as well, from fashion (Repetto) to electrical appliances (Calor and SEB). It marks a real shift considering that just a short time ago, providing such information was thought to be superfluous. With the exception of luxury products and gastronomy, the French – unlike car-proud Germans – don't attach much importance to the national or regional origins of what they produce.

Mazaya Kuroki, co-founder of Kitsuné, which produces half of its clothes line in France, notes that their Made in France label "is mainly noticed and appreciated by foreign tourists." And at the electric appliance company SEB, Managing Director for France And Belgium, Gérard Salommez, recalls that images of French flags on the packaging of some French-made appliances was initially "met with a certain reticence on the part of distributors, who have since come on board completely." SEB began using the flag labels eight years ago, making it a pioneer of sorts.

Mentalities change, however, as the website shows. The site lists all the products by category -- from toys to radiators, cosmetics to clothes – that a consumer can "buy French." Founder Hervé Gibet launched the site three years ago. "People thought I was nuts. But that's no longer the case," says Gibet, who claims his site gets 60,000 monthly visits. "These are people who, by definition, when they make the effort to go to the site accept to pay more."

From smirks to smiles

Grégoire Vincent of the trend forecasting agency Nelly Rodi speaks of "a new kind of Made in France exoticism that acts as a counterpoint to globalization." People used to "smirk" when they saw French colors on a product, he explains. "Now there's a smile of contentment."

But SEB's Gérard Salommez warns that there are limits to the magic of Made in France. "The price differential between the French product and an equivalent import can't exceed 10%," he says. If it does, "the French product has to deliver other pluses for the client, such as style, design or real innovation." Such is the case with SEB's best-seller, ActiFry, which costs three times as much as other deep-fryers because it allows customers to fry a kilo of French fries with just one soup spoon of oil.

Thomas Cohen, the founder of Bonton, a line of offbeat chic clothes and accessories for infants and kids, decided on 100 % Made in France for its furniture (made in the Cantal region by Combelle, one of the last French producers). "Clients look at the labels, and the Made in France is part of the quality they expect when they buy the brand," he says. Cohen adds that the brand's clothes – which used to be made mostly in Asia -- are increasingly being made in central Europe and the Maghreb.

Anne-Flore Maman, a professor at the ESSEC Business School and director of SemioConsult, warns of the risks that abusers of the "Made in" system may encounter. "It's like ‘green-washing" and sustainable development. Used unwisely, Made in France can do more harm than good to businesses."

It all revolves around legitimacy – what Maman calls the "congruence" between the category of products in question and the country of origin. "In the case of France, legitimacy goes without saying for the luxury market, the art of living in general." But if savoir-faire, creativity and ingenuity are qualities associated with France, "businesses, particularly small and medium-sized, have to be able to make a marketing tool out of it by getting all the communication around it right," says Maman.

Another impediment to Made in France as a marketing tool? Consumers themselves. They remain obsessed with finding good deals, meaning that in order to seduce them, a Made in France product has to be "original enough that you can differentiate it from something made in China," says Maman. "It has to feel close to home so you get the human touch, the idea of keeping jobs in this country, but the price has to be interesting too." Certainly no easy task.

Read more from Les Echos in French

Photo - Thomas Strosse

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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