French bakers rush to Africa as the wealthy seek fresh goods

Several times a week Ivorian computer engineer Paul Tahi stops by Le Roi du Pain bakery in northern Abidjan to buy six freshly-baked baguettes for his three children.

“My children love bread — for breakfast in the morning or for snacks at school,” said Tahi, 42, while carrying a bag of the French bread loaves. “At home, we eat more bread than rice.”

Le Roi du Pain, translated as The King of Bread, was opened in the city’s Deux-Plateaux neighborhood in July by Mohamed Shour, a 32-year-old Lebanese baker’s son who was born and brought up in Abidjan. The brightly-lit, 24-hour eatery is just one of a growing number of bakeries — local, Lebanese and French — to spring up in Ivory Coast’s economic capital in recent months. Its competitors include La Brioche Doree, owned by Groupe Le Duff SA, based in Rennes, France, and fellow French chain PAUL.

“The demand is huge and the growth in the consumption of bread is exponential,” said Remi Depoix, head of Paris-based Cerealis SAS, which exports wheat to west and central Africa. The company plans to double annual sales to 2-million metric tons over the next decade to meet rising demand inAfrica, which accounts for 60 percent of shipments. Annual wheat imports to sub-Saharan Africa have risen over the past 1O years to 23 million tons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Increasing urbanization and a growing middle class in sub- Saharan Africa are boosting demand for higher-quality baked goods, including viennoiseries and pastries, Depoix said. The number of middle-class households, or those consuming $15 to $115 a day, in the region has tripled since 2000, according to Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group Ltd. An ordinary baguette at PAUL in Abidjan costs 300 francs, compared with 150 francs at a local bakery.

“Bakeries are booming everywhere — the bread is a colonial heritage that has been re-appropriated,” said Rodrigue Kone, a sociologist at the university of Bouake, in Ivory Coast. “In cities, it’s evidence of a social rise into an emerging class with a certain purchase power. Breakfast with bread, croissants and other pastries is an indicator of social success.”

That’s motivated French bakery chains to start investing in Africa — and not only in Francophone countries.

PAUL, owned by closely held Groupe Holder of France, opened its second shop in Abidjan last month on Rue Des Jardins, a busy commercial street. The cafe-bakery is also expanding in South Africa, where Johannesburg-based Famous Brands Ltd. has the right to open about 30 outlets across the country, before targeting other sub-Saharan African nations.

La Brioche Doree plans to open 30 restaurants in six countries by 2025, after its first Abidjan bakery started selling goods in December. The Parisian artisan baker Eric Kayseris considering Abidjan for its third African store this year, adding to outlets in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Industrial Bakeries

Carrefour SA, France’s largest retailer, is opening supermarkets in African countries including Ivory Coast, creating a market for bakeries specializing in mass production, according to Raymond Nogael, marketing director at Mecatherm SA., the French maker of baking equipment including ovens. “The population grows and will have increasing needs,” he said. There will be “more industrial bakeries.”

But some continue to believe in the appeal of handmade bread.

In Abidjan, Hussein Taan has earned a reputation as one of the city’s best bakers. After studying baking at Ferrandi culinary arts school in Paris, the Lebanese-Ivorian opened Des Gâteaux et du Pain in 2008. Taan, 30, now runs three outlets and sells more than 2,000 bread and croissant products daily. One of the bakery’s most popular creations is the Gagnoa, a chocolate mousse cake named after a town in the country’s most fertile cocoa region.

“We have more and more customers and potential customers,” Taan said in his main shop located near PAUL on Rue Des Jardins. “People got to know a new way of making bread, a new range of cakes and they’ve acquired new habits,” he said.

 – Bloomberg