Tradition runs deep at the pâtisseries in Northern France, but automation and innovation keep traditional products vibrant.
A trip through Northern France would be the perfect opportunity to visit leaders in the bakery and biscuit industry. This region of France is home to 44 companies specializing in industrial bakery and pastry products. With an annual production of 42,000 tons of biscuit products (madeleines, shells, fruit- and chocolate-filled biscuits, fruitcakes, rolled sweet cookies, etc.), Northern France is the fifth-leading biscuit manufacturing region in France, accounting for 8% of the nation’s production. Additionally, one biscuit out of 10 is produced in France.
Clearly, some of the first bakery products that come to mind as being traditionally French are baguettes and croissants, produced by Boulangerie Pâtisserie Krabansky in Dunkerque. A family-owned business, founded by Raphall Krabansky in 1963, Krabansky is ranked 31st among French industrial bakeries, second among French industrial independent bakeries and first among French independent parbaked frozen breads. With Krabansky’s current chairman and managing director Henri-Pierre Krabansky propelling production, the company offers more than 800 bread and pastry products around the world.
A typical production cycle for Krabansky’s baguettes begins as follows. Flour undergoes a series of quality-control tests before being introduced into the production circuit. The dough is then prepared on an automatic carousel meter. Computers manage weighing, kneading and transferring to one of the company’s four product lines. Once transferred, the dough is cut into pieces, shaped and left to stand in a recovery circuit. The products take form and undergo their first quality-control check as they leave the line.
Four parallel lines ensure the production of “special order” products prepared at customer’s requests. From there, products continue to a rising chamber, the largest in Europe, to finish the developing process. Back on the line, loaves are “marked” or scored. The scoring operation can be executed mechanically or by using wet-jet technology. Each country and many regions have their own specific marking requirements, which Krabansky strictly adheres to and is expected to produce.
Different baking techniques followed by cooling are the last stages in the process. The products are then ready to be deep-frozen at a temperature of 8°F. Upon leaving the freezer, the products are checked by a metal detector, and samples are taken for a series of controls checks in Krabansky’s labs.
The company’s packaging machinery is equipped with an analysis camera that precisely counts product. This allows the company to organize batches according to customer requests. Cartons are labeled and automatically palletized on a conveyor circuit in compliance with its customers’ requirements and delivery constraints. The batches are then stored at minus-4°F to await departure. Products are distributed in refrigerated trucks to 19 countries that Krabansky services. Most of Krabansky’s customers are in France, Belgium, England and Germany. With a major presence in Dunkerque, as well as exports to London, Brussels, Lille and Paris, all of which are within 62 miles of the facility, Krabansky serves more than 700 customers generating more than US $27 million in sales.
More than 1,500 baguettes leave Krabansky’s lines per hour, with the company’s capacity approaching 400,000 baguettes a day. In the last year in frozen bread, pre-proofed or parbaked bakery, the company produced 31,000 tons of product. In the frozen raw, pre-proofed and parbaked bakery, it reached 2,500 tons.
“We are able to divide and create the shape of what a customer needs in his market,” says Yannick Plelan, Krabansky’s sales manager. “We are able to produce the right length, the right shape, the right recipe, the right taste and the right level of technology from parbaked, the main product we produce in this factory, to fully baked or pre-proofed or partly-proofed.”
Since 1995, Krabansky has spent more than $32 million to invest in the company, including an increase in storage capacity, doubling the space of its 32,000-sq.-ft. production facility, adding flexible automatic packaging machinery and offering pre-proofed breads that have the ability to rise and set in 20 minutes. Additionally, the company now has more than 200 employees.
In 1998, the company also added Bethune-based Gelfood Europe, a manufacturer of French specialties and Danish pastries, to its manufacturing capabilities. Croissants account for 40% of the products that Gelfood produces. Danish with raisins comes in second at 15%.
Gelfood began as a family-owned business in 1984. Today it operates with 40 employees and two production lines, producing approximately 30 batches of product a day. Gelfood produces mainly industrial bakery and pastry products and frozen viennoiserie products. Besides Danish and croissants, the company produces chocolate-filled rolls and has created a new line of Polish products, including croissants filled with raisins and a pie-like apricot product.
“Even though American products are having more influence and growing in popularity, French products are still growing in sales as well,” says Christophe Mareau, plant manager at Gelfood Europe.
From 2000 to 2003, Gelfood’s sales grew 15% to $4.6 million. Gelfood services more than 2,000 customers, including artisan shops, airlines and private-label products for supermarkets.
Gelfood’s bakery neighbor along the Belgian border is Flandres-based Pâtisserie des Flandres, which produces filled waffles and thin waffles, with sales occurring primarily in Northern France and Paris. The $1.8 million company has recently started exporting to Belgium and varied gourmet retailers in the United States.
Pâtisserie des Flandres operates in a 4,000-sq.-ft. production facility and employs about 20 people who create traditional French waffles varieties in various sizes. A traditional French product served with tea or coffee, thin butter waffles make for a nice crunchy snack. Traditional butter waffles are also available filled with a fondant icing made of butter and vanilla, brown sugar, brandy or chocolate. The company also produces traditional Belgian waffles from an exclusive recipe made with sugar drops.
Pâtisserie des Flandres decided to take its traditional waffle product to the next level by launching a smaller-sized waffle product filled with vanilla or brown sugar, to be served as a snack anytime of the day. But, that’s not all that can be done with a smaller waffle. Translated to mean “the little coins,” Les Petits ’Ecus made its debut at the 2004 Sial show in Paris and single-handedly moved waffles into the savory and salted-snack category. A type of appetizer, these small, light and crunchy waffles come in three varieties — Guérande salt, tomato basil and cheese and chive — and offer a truly innovative introduction into the salted crackers market.
“There is nothing like this on the market,” says Benoît Rousseau, owner of the seven-year-old Pâtisserie des Flandres. “There just has not been a lot of innovation in cracker, chips and biscuit products in France. We plan to change that with this product.”
Even though traditional French products may reign supreme in Northern France, the region still ups the ante by adding a bit of innovation to its traditional products in order to continue to move those products to a higher level of success.