Category Archives: Five Months in Bourgogne

Tastes in Sweets, Reinforcing Understanding of French Consumers – Five Months in Bourgogne VII

The other day I was at a birthday party where two examples of Mexican sweets were distributed to a mainly French Group of people.

The first was a thin tube approximately 4mm in diameter and about 8cm long, filled with a rather bland tasting heavy jelly. It was very hard to eat and didn’t attract or repel anyone and was simply dismissed.

The second was a completely different story!


photograph by ChigyTweeter

published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Sandigomas is a very different sweet shaped like a watermelon slice, it has a very strong jelly texture. Burt its the taste that had the French hating it! They used all sorts of adjectives like bizarre, horrible and worse and were quick to make their comments.

The first flavor is chili, which is quite strong and persists for several minutes. Thereafter the jelly has a strong acidic flavor but without any strong watermelon or other fruit flavor. That’s after your tastebuds get over the chili.

This little episode is quite a nice reflection of, I would say, the majority of the French who see themselves as authorities on food (this was no doubt this wasn’t a sweet), always sticking to their rules (the use of chili in a sweet breaking the sweet and salty rule) and not very willing to try things with an open mind (no one tasted it as something different as I did, which allowed me to see a different and interesting taste).

Maybe a bit sweeping from this one example but really reinforcing my conclusions of the last few months. Of course this kind of understanding of the market is critical in reaching the consumer.

French Bread, Mie & Sandwiches – Five Months in Bourgogne VI

Here is another interesting post by Chigy which is as much a comparison of country cultures as it is of bread and sandwiches .

The House At Le Gros Chigy - French Bread, Mie & Sandwiches

from: The House at Le Gros Chigy (click image for full story online)


This post goes a bit further on the differences between French and other bread from a consumer view and humorously looks at the sandwiches made by different nations – the prim and organized, the quality and tasty and the hearty meal in a loaf.

Foie Gras Threatens France/German Relationships – 5 Months in Bourgogne V

The exchange between France and Germany, that drew in two French ministers and has been running for two or three weeks has now gone public. It arises from the massive Cologne based Aguna Exhibition banning Foie Gras producers from the exhibition, in response to the pressure from animal rights groups protesting the force feeding of geese.

Les producteurs de foie gras non grata au salon agroalimentaire de Cologne  Vidéo du journal televise

click image to visit site


This premier channel news report raises the issues of French history, culture and gastronomy, even finding German retailers highlighting the double standards that ignore the animal cruelty associated with many other food industries.

The heart of the issue is an expensive delicacy that is associated with the greatest meals and celebrations in France. For the proper appreciation of pâté made from foie gras it needs to be accompanied by a specific white wine and even cut with a boxed knife reserved for the task.

First View of Food Prices in France! – 5 Months in Bourgogne IV

To begin with I felt that food on France would be expensive and didn’t look too hard. Lately I have started taking a bit more note and am beginning to wonder what is going on. After coming home from a medium sized supermarket in Cluny, a small rural town, I took these items out of the shopping bag and photographed them on the stove.

Six foods from French Supermarket with their costs

photograph by DIGIVU

published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


Using the Pick and Pay shopping site, selecting similar products and converting at R 10/Euro shows the following

  • Clover Cream R26.99 / 500ml equivalent to 53.98 R/l compared to 40.00 R/l
  • Bakers East Sum More R12.49 per 200g equivalent to R62.45 per kg compared to 47,60 R/kg
  • Free Range Eggs R1.80 each compared to R 2,60 each
  • Pick and Pay Pure Ground Coffee R46.99 per 250 Gr equivalent to R187.96 per kg compared to 36,00 R/kg
  • Pongracz Cap Classique R89.99 per bottle compared to 52.50 R/bottle
  • Carrots R5.69 a bunch compared to R18.00 a bunch, but who knows the size of the bunch.
  • There is much to be looked at, for instance these are low price items although of quality at least as good as any in South Africa and in particular those costed here. There are always higher priced articles of different quality eg sparkling wine at R250 a bottle and coffee at R45 a packet, the best steak costs R 200/kg and of course one an buy Wine at R1 000s a bottle.

    Adding to the complexity you can get a 3 course midday dinner at a restaurant in town for €10 to €12 if you select the special and that’s not a small helping! A very drinkable bottle of red wine such as Cote de Rhone can cost as little as €1.30, a traditional French bread costs €0.80 and a good French goat cheese as little as €1.50 so thats lunch for three at €3.60 or R12.00 each.

    Of course this is not a comprehensive or accurate comparison – maybe I will have a further look and report on prices more rigorously sometime. Anyone interested in this could contact me.

    I do, however, think it does two things:

  • It contradicts the perception that food is cheap in South Africa
  • Raises the question, given low wages and agricultural potential, of why South African prices are high.
  • Misleading Packaging, The Same The World Over? – 5 Months in Bourgogne IV

    I’ve always taken the arguments about cereals “compacting” in the retail chain as the reason for boxes with large ullages with a large pinches of salt. Just like the thick separating sheets that mean you get fewer layers of chocolates in a box and the false bottoms I believe its an attempt to make the consumer think they are getting more than they are.

    Here is one from Bourgogne thats just too obvious!

    A pack of 6 Merguez in their packaging

    photograph by DIGIVU

    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    By the way Merguez is a spicy lamb sausage of Moroccan or North African origin – very nice.

    A pack of 6 Merguez with the packaging open.

    photograph by DIGIVU

    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    Electronics in French Supermarkets – Five Months in Bourgogne III

    I have noticed a number of electronic processes in French Supermarkets that are probably in place to save labour and might therefore not be appropriate for South Africa. However, they are interesting in that they show what is happening in France.

    LCD Shelf Price Indication

    On a previous visit, about three years ago, many supermarkets in France had replaced shelf price tags with LCD displays that show some of Product Description, Price in Euros and French Francs and a per kg price. These displays are presumably connected to the the supermarkets computer system and therefore allow immediate changes.

    LED Tags on Supermarket Shelves in France 2008

    photograph by DIGIVU
    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    The system reduces labour by eliminating the need to move around the aisles to replace the shelf labels, as they are updated. Computer repairs logan suggests that the way in which it is connected to and controlled by the computer raises many interesting possibilities. The price of fresh produce could be continually updated for the supermarket’s purchase costs. With a suitable model any corporate financial measure could be used to drive price changes based on many different criteria.

    Image Recognition on Loose Produce Scales

    Unlike South Africa, where fresh produce is weighed and labeled by workers, most supermarkets require the customer to weigh and label their own purchases. This normally consists of selecting the product being weighed from a display from all the products on sale.

    Supermarket scale with image recognition that identifies product being weighed

    click image to visit site


    Some supermarkets have an image recognition system that processes a video image on the scale and displays the product or a small number of products.

    Personal “Ringing Up” of Purchases

    The other one, which I don’t yet understand is that shoppers can scan their purchases into a hand hold device that sits in a holster on the shopping trolley. They are then able to see where to buy Xilinx fpga parts or use preferential check out counters which speed processing.

    Handheld scanners at supermarkets | syracuse com

    click image to visit


    How the supermarket checks that all items has been scanned I am not sure, but will report later. Possibly all items are RFID tagged and this is really a process to introduce RFID or to provide the check necessary for its introduction.

    French Bread, Global Warming and Carbon Footprint – Five Months in Bourgogne II

    Here is an interesting post, where the writer has satisfied his inquisitiveness about the way the French use bread by doing a short analysis of carbon footprints.

    French Bread, Global Warming and Carbon Footprint - The House At Le Gros Chigy  Looking East 1

    from: The House at Le Gros Chigy
    (click image for full story online)


    He finds that its likely that most of those who collect their bread by car, emit more greenhouse gasses on the trip than the baker does in making the bread. The author lives 2,5 km from the nearest bakery and finds that the 75% of his carbon footprint for his morning baguette comes from the drive and only 25% from the bread.

    The food processing side lies in the nature of French bread – its mainly eaten fresh (the texture of a baguette, especially the crisp crust and soft interior is lost in a few hours) and it is seldom toasted. It is this that means it has to be collected at least once a day unlike sliced bread which can be refrigerated and used over many days and toasted as it gets older.

    A Novel Technology For Macadamia Nut Cracking – Five Months in Bourgogne I

    Probably the most distinguishing feature of Macadamia Nuts is their very hard shells. While the nut can be easily broken with a heavy hammer on a hard surface, the simple nut cracker which all other nuts yield to is not usable. The alternative to bringing a sledge hammer to the dining room table, seems to have been developed by German company Deluxe.

    The solution lies in a small steel gadget and a circumferential slot cut in the nut.

    Close up shot of slotted Macadamia nut and device to open the shell.

    photograph by DIGIVU

    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    This is quite an effective solution, although strong fingers and hands are needed to open the shells. The process mainly producers whole nuts unlike some more violent techniques.

    Close up view of opened macadamia nut and tool

    photograph by DIGIVU

    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    Looking online shows that many different tools have been developed, some of them rather vicious in comparison.

    The advantages of this technology as a cracker to be used by the eater, is diminished by the need to cut the nut before it is sold. There doesn’t seem to be any real advantage as cutting the shell opens the nut to degradation by air and insects.

    Anyone want to make a comment – maybe the advantage lies in the cost and the novelty?

    Five Months in Bourgogne!

    I am going to be spending the next few months working from a house in rural Bourgogne (Burgundy to the English and the wine drinker!) in France.

    Having just returned from a first visit to the supermarket it was interesting that for the first time in my life I actually said to myself “We mustn’t buy too much fruit because the garden is full of cherries!”.

    General view in a mediunm sized French supermarket.

    photograph by DIGIVUZA

    published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


    This brought home the Local Food issue, especially as the plums and pears in the supermarket were from South Africa! We definitely, especially in South Africa, make little effort to reduce our carbon footprint by using foods that are grow nearby. Here someone planted trees decades ago and without fertilisation or any real pruning they produce year after year and as they are just off the dining room with “zero” carbon emission.

    I also saw some interesting products and concepts in the supermarket such as LCD pricing, easy cracking macadamias and another solution to cooking rice!

    I have therefore decided to write a number of posts while I am here that reflect on these and similar items focussing on innovation and the environment.