A recent story that made Mediolana’s Creative Director & CSO Asad Yawar pause from eating a late-night yoghurt snack was (perhaps predictably) the news of another food-related development: the opening of a giant baguette franchise in Paris. At first glance, the inauguration of an establishment purveying what is after all a staple of French cuisine within ambling distance from the Louvre doesn’t appear to be particularly newsworthy – until one realises that the Paris Baguette chain is actually South Korean. Started in 1988 by entrepreneur Hur Young-in – now chairman of Korea’s leading confectionery group, SPC – Paris Baguette has no less than 3,250 outlets in its country of origin, and is looking to sweep the world in its mission to become the McDonald’s of bread: the target for the Chinese market alone is 500 shops.
To anyone with even a basic knowledge of French cuisine and the culture surrounding it, this trend is of profound significance. French food is in many ways the epitome of ‘slow food’: dishes and eating cultures which are unusually resistant to economic and manufacturing rationalisation. Thirty years ago (perhaps much less) the idea that a company could successfully sell French bread – much of which is actually made in Korea Republic, frozen and then distributed worldwide – would have seemed too strange for fiction. But as is so often the case, fact has trumped fantasy.
After some contemplation, we at Mediolana have identified three clear implications from the success of Paris Baguette:
1. Competition is Global. Competition now really is global. The ‘flattening’ of the world’s knowledge systems and productive processes means that if a 19-year-old in Bordeaux wants a career in baking, s/he had better be aware that on some level they will be up against armies of wannabe boulangers from Beijing, Bangkok and Brasilia. Notably, Paris Baguette’s model – broadly based on mass production – has not stopped it setting higher artisanal standards for its French presence: the Parisian Paris Baguette has joined the Chambre Professionnelle des Artisans Boulangers-Patissiers, which requires its members to adhere to traditional baking standards.
2. Opportunities are Global. The present phase of globalisation signifies that tariff barriers are declining and being circumvented to the point of irrelevance. South Korea is not part of and can never dream of joining the EU – but that doesn’t stop everything from Kia cars to Lotte biscuits thriving in Western markets. Of course, the same is true the other way: France cannot be a part of ASEAN or the A3 (China-South Korea-Japan) group of economies, but that does not stop corporations such as Danone regarding these are key markets for expansion – and key markets, full stop.
3. Cultural Monopolies are Collapsing. With the globalisation of education, the idea that people resident in France possess intangible qualities that will forestall anyone else entering certain industries has probably already become redundant. The culinary and haute-couture schools of Paris are only too happy to admit students from all over the world – and to go to them if inflexible visa regimes or simple personal preferences prove to be obstacles to learning in France itself. Fashion school ESMOD has branch campuses from Sousse to Seoul, with instruction available in multiple languages.