Bonne année, bonne santé! Traditional New Year’s greetings in France begin like this, wishing Happy New Year and good health, to be said each time you see someone for the first time in the year, throughout the month of January. So I’m taking this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy and healthy 2016, and to get back into blogging after a bit of a festive break I thought I’d talk about one of my favourite things….chocolate. No irony intended, chocolate can be healthy!
Our household is still groaning under a surplus of chocolate, having been given quite a few boxes for a vin chaud party we held, then more from JF’s family on our brief visit, and even more in England over Christmas and I’m not quite ready yet to stop indulging. I’ll pull myself together and take control after the galette and associated gatherings that take up at least half of January. (And then it’ll be Chandeleur, French pancake day, and then before we know it Easter…oh dear, just when am I going to get raisonable?!)
Much is written about chocolate in France, about how it’s beautifully handmade, artisanal and elegant. This can of course be true and a good percentage of chocolate sold is from chocolatiers and pâtisseries, certainly a much higher percentage than in many other parts of the world. But this is not the whole story. Vast amounts, especially at Christmas, are produced industrially and shifted through enormous supermarkets. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and it came up frequently in the things expat bloggers like about France at Christmas, the fact that Christmas in France is less commercial than elsewhere, but it’s not some backward quaint little country stuck in a mythical golden era pre-globalisation, not at all.
The French supermarket giant Carrefour is one of the top 3 biggest supermaket chains in the world, moving between 2nd and 3rd place over the last few years and Auchan makes the top 15. The buying frenzy in the days leading up to Christmas in my nearest Carrefour would suggest that French love to shop every bit as much as their Anglosaxon counterparts (particularly when it comes to food).
Just because they don’t start marketing Christmas in October, doesn’t mean they don’t go crazy in the last few days and I must admit to being astounded by the quantities of chocolate on display. Take a look at my photos. They are not taken in a warehouse, but in the chocolate section of the supermarket itself, with forklifts restocking the 2.5m high towers continually, so much so that there’s no time to remove the delivery pallets . A far cry from the pretty, understated displays in independent chocolate boutiques (as seen in the first 2 photos above)!
Here are a few facts and figures: 40,000 tonnes of chocolate are consumed in France over the fêtes de fin d’année (end of year festivities including New Year as well as Christmas). French eat around 7kg of chocolate per head per annum but are only in 7th position behind such countries as Ireland, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland (number 1 consumers). They spend on average 110€ each a year on chocolate and its sales don’t tend to be affected by financial crises as it’s considered an affordable little pleasure even during difficult times.
90% of French people claim to like chocolate and associate it with pleasure, while 83% eat it at least once a week. For half the population chocolate is a comfort food. 30% of chocolate consumed in France is dark chocolate which makes it more popular than elsewhere in the world where on average it’s only 5% of consumption. Chocolate is the most commonly given present at Christmas.
In selection boxes in France you’ll rarely find fruit-filled centres, nor mint. Truffles, pralines, ganache and gianduja are popular as is liqueur, especially cherry. If you want strawberry, violet, lemon etc you’ll need to go to a specialist and even then there won’t be as much choice as there is for nut-based fillings. Almost every box in the giant stacks in my photos is praline; too bad if you have a nut allergy!
Does this massive production and consumption of “industrial” chocolate surprise you about France? I hope I haven’t busted a myth that French only eat amazing hand-crafted chocolates!
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