Culture choc as French taste bizarre bonbons

29th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Chocolate makers from as far away as Japan and New York have converged on Paris, seeking to carve out a niche in the French market at a five-day industry binge which runs until Monday.

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Chocolate makers from as far away as Japan and New York have converged on Paris, seeking to carve out a niche in the French market at a five-day industry binge which runs until Monday.

Tokyo's Madame Setsuko, Kyoto's Ponto, and the assorted "chocolatiers New Yorkais" are rubbing shoulders with European industry giants like Switzerland's Nestle and Lindt at the Salon du Chocolat, which expects to draw 170 makers and 100,000 chocolate lovers before the close of play.

The Paris show signals the beginning of a season of chocolate trade shows - which moves to New York from November 11 to 13 and Tokyo from January 28 to February 3 - at which chocolate makers cross the world to tout their luxury product on either others' patch.

As chocolate lovers swarmed through Paris' 12,000 metre square Expo park, munching handout bars and pralines, it appeared they might not be quite ready, however, to swap their traditional cream and liquor fillings for chocolates filled with more exotic soya, lemon grass and green tea.

"Bizarre," said 29-year-old Nemaya, screwing up her nose, as she scrunched on one of the prestigious Kyoto-based Ponto's Kinako crunchy pralines.

"There's a taste of soya which we are not used to here. It's not 'fondant'", she complained.

"Not good. I'm not keen on it. Too spicy," concurred 54-year old Martine - her face told the rest of the story - as she chewed on one of Tokyo-based Madame Setsuko's rice chocolates.

Far flung chocolate makers say they are putting emphasis on small-scale production, quality, and originality, as they seek to carve out a niche in a discriminating market already served by nearby French, Belgian and Swiss chocolate.

The kimono-clad president of Madame Setsuko, Setsuko Hara, told AFP her prestigious company did not underestimate the difficulties of selling such exotic chocolates to the French.

"We make chocolate with Japanese ingredients like green tea, sesame and lemon grass that gives an eastern, oriental taste," she said.

"There are ingredients that the French are not used to. At first it looks strange, but then they get used to them and then they like it more and more."

A spokeswoman for Kyoto-based Ponto, which has a shop in Paris, said the chocolates act as a "bridge between Japan and France", using French chocolate, and Japanese fillings.

Frederik Luzyk of New York's Mariebelle, which is seeking to get its Venezuelan Aztec Hot Chocolate drink on the shelves of Europe's department stores, also put the emphasis on quality, hoping people would buy it for gifts, rather than regular consumption.

"It's all about aesthetics and quality. This is an art food. Gorgeous. We are using only the finest products," he said.

French artisanal chocolate makers -- who take pride in using only cocoa butter rather than the cheaper vegetable oils used by many competitors - brushed off the new competition, in a country where 17 million people eat chocolate every day.

"We are not worried, given that we use pure cocoa butter," said patissier Michel Boulestier, of France's grouping of artisanal patissiers.

"We are therefore adapted to French market," he said, during the trade show held to the thud of song and dance from the world's biggest cocoa producer, Ivory Coast.

And the chocolate trail, might get even more exotic, as China mulls staging its own chocolate show in January 2006 in Beijing, the Paris organisers said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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