Foodmakers say crisis won't spoil French appetite

Wed Oct 22, 2008 11:15am EDT
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By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) - The financial crisis may be a time to tighten belts but the food-centric French are unlikely to go on a diet just yet, producers say.

Top-end brands are betting that consumers will eye gourmet food products as a relatively cheap source of pleasure.

"Food products cost less than handbags and could be a haven for people who want to indulge themselves," Claudie Le Souder, head of communication at French luxury food maker Fauchon, said at the international food show SIAL in Paris.

The average grocery basket amounts to 30 euros in France, far above Britain (21 euros), Spain (18 euros) and Germany (12 euros), a study by British analyst Europanel showed.

Fauchon, which focuses on typical French products like chocolates, foie gras or truffles, is still optimistic for next year but remains watchful, she said.

Sales of fine foods carrying the name of the famous Parisian restaurant Maxim's have lost 5 percent since the peak of the crisis in mid-September due to lower traffic in airports, their main market, but the firm still envisaged its sector as a relatively safe place to be.

"Luxury food is different. If people will easily postpone buying an apartment or a car by six months, they won't shun a candy box worth 15 euros to give themselves a treat," said Gilles Poisson, marketing director of the Maxim's brand.

While fine food producers remain upbeat, middle market players may need to rethink their strategy.   Continued...