France’s food prestige fails flailing exports

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France can no longer rely on the famed cachet of its gastronomy to reverse a fall to the fifth rank of world food exporters, its food minister said on June 12.

“We must not rest on our laurels in terms of exports of French products,” Guillaume Garot told food and wine producers at an exporters’ meeting. “We have a lot on our plates if we want to meet the export challenge.”

Food, wine and spirits have been major drivers of France’s trade balance and, including hefty grain exports, showed an 11.9-billion euros (US$15.70-billion) surplus in 2011, making it the second-largest sector surplus after aeronautics.

The crown of world’s best cheese maker has been won by a Japanese woman and France no longer has the lead in the best wine sommeliers — both signs of the times, said Cecile Bassot head of export marketing group Sopexa.

In 2011 France fell to fifth among the world’s largest agri-food exporters after the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Brazil, with “China on its heels,” she said.

“If we continue like this we risk not being a food power anymore,” Bassot said.

French products still benefit from a good quality image abroad, but food makers warned that it was losing momentum with heavy competition from other European countries like Italy.

For wine, France’s luxury image has even been a drawback.

“A French study suggested about 15 years ago that drinking a little wine was good for health but it benefited mostly our competitors, which started producing affordable wines,” said Franck Crouzet, head of communication at wine group Castel.

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