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HomeFoodThe Trendy Épicerie: France’s Nook Retailer Will get a Revival

The Trendy Épicerie: France’s Nook Retailer Will get a Revival


Shortly after midday on a latest Sunday, a 40-something Parisienne bounced into Superfrais, a specialty grocer within the twentieth arrondissement, on one thing of a mission. “Salut les gars! I’m ravenous. You bought any of that pizza left?” she requested excitedly. The pizza in query was a frozen personal-sized pie from Louie Louie, a well-liked restaurant within the eleventh arrondissement owned by Alexis Poirson, who additionally based Superfrais. Hortense, one of many workers members, regarded up from assembling a vegetarian baguette sandwich and delivered the disappointing information: That they had fully bought out midweek. “We are able to’t preserve them in inventory! Examine in subsequent week. It’ll have your identify on it.”

Out the client went and in got here three different regulars — one returning for his second espresso of the day, which he sipped exterior on a picket bench, and one other who went straight to the again room to choose up recent produce for the week and scan a cookbook or two within the bookshop nook. The third clearly had his go to mapped out, starting on the spice and condiment shelf for vegetable dashi and Maison Martin’s scorching sauce, passing by the collection of eco-friendly cleansing merchandise, persevering with to the wine and spirits nook for a bottle of Pierre Cotton’s Côte de Brouilly, after which swinging round to the opposite aspect of the central counter for a made-to-order 7 euro sandwich full of pistachio mortadella and lemon burrata.

The scene performs like an up to date remake of the traditional fantasy of French grocery buying by which locals spend their days toting wicker baskets between purveyors at open-air markets and specialty shops. They commit hours to perusing and socializing as a result of, because the stereotype maintains, they know what’s essential in life; issues like terroir, provenance, and first-name friendships with the fishmonger who will get the great line-caught dorade (see additionally: trip time). Regardless of the France-does-it-better culinary mythology, the nation has truly been shifting away from this artisan tradition for many years. However the afternoon’s clients at Superfrais performed the half, protecting all of the bases marketed on the store’s signal out entrance: cheese, espresso, pure wine, and — crucially — épicerie, an almost defunct historic breed of connoisseur grocers the place the buying fantasy as soon as thrived.

The épicerie will be traced again to the Center Ages when it outlined a small store specializing in spices sourced from world wide (“épices” means spice). Over time, different foodstuffs had been added to the combo, and house owners started packaging their very own merchandise and slapping their names on them. By the tip of the nineteenth century, there was a community of namesake, family-owned outlets throughout the nation. However conventional épiceries declined all through the twentieth century as they had been folded into massive, multipurpose, self-service hypermarchés like Carrefour, which muscled in with high-volume, low-cost necessities.

Superfrais goals to revive that custom, serving to consumers return to a slowed-down, extra considerate connection to their meals tradition. And it’s simply certainly one of a slew of recent épiceries popping up in city facilities doing the identical like L’Epicerie Idéale in Marseille, Epicerie Sardine within the Basque seaside city of Ciboure, and 21 Paysans in Good. You will discover them in small cities too, like L’Epicerie within the sleepy village of Saoû which doubles as a minimart, however the brand new épiceries appear — and are supposed to be — particularly anachronistic in bustling metropoli.

“After I moved into the neighborhood, I wished to create a meals anchor, a spot impressed by outdated village épiceries that not solely carried on a regular basis necessities but in addition occupied the position of a gathering place, a spot for social contact,” proprietor Poirson says.

Traditionally, the standard of an épicerie typically got here all the way down to the individual working the place, the épicier. They had been often a dealer or importer, somebody “who had the sourcing acumen and contacts with producers to pick out uncommon or specialised items,” explains Claire Pichon, editor-in-chief of meals magazines Fou de Delicacies and Fou de Pâtisserie. “Shoppers relied on their experience and their eager sense for high quality. They’d come for that distinctive espresso, the very best canned sardines, essentially the most excellent olive oil, none of which you’d discover anyplace else.”

It could be tempting to match the rebirth of the épicerie with the rise of indie curated nook shops within the U.S. Like épiceries, they promote crucial experience as a lot as meals. However the two shops aren’t born of the identical legacy. The American outlets largely emerged in or because of the digital area, largely promoting direct-to-consumer packaged items that individuals can simply as simply get on-line. The épicerie is firmly grounded in brick-and-mortar custom, gaining clients not via novelty or Instagrammable branding, however by reviving the regional culinary know-how and private relationships with farmers and clients that empowered épiciers of the previous.

That’s true at Provisions, about 500 miles south of Superfrais, in a residential, working-class pocket of Marseille. The épicerie hosts fermentation workshops, e-book signings, and pop-up occasions with cooks and restaurateurs, performing as not solely an alternative choice to the grocery store, but in addition a spot to study and alternate concepts. “We see ourselves as transmitters of tradition, connecting producers, based mostly not more than 150 kilometers [about 93 miles] from right here, to shoppers,” says meals author and creator Jill Cousin, who opened the store lower than a 12 months in the past with retail vet Saskia Poretta as an extension of their month-to-month pop-up farmer’s market Hors Champs, which started in 2020.

Their almost 2,000 merchandise embrace spices from Shira, a small label of untamed, natural, and uncommon spices sourced immediately from producers; dried pastas from Puglia-based Paolo Petrilli; nice teas from Le Parti du Thé, an impartial firm targeted on clear and moral sourcing; sustainable, seasonal flowers grown in Arles; canned items and condiments from regional producers; and a number of the nation’s greatest pure wines and ciders. “I concern this digital-first flip in society, however I feel if persons are introduced with another that’s accessible, that doesn’t require touring out of their method, they may make completely different decisions,” Cousin provides.

Provisions occupies what was as soon as a multilingual bookshop that operated from the Nineteen Fifties till Cousin and Poretta discovered the area for hire in 2021. The ladies preserved as a lot of the unique area as they might, together with the floor-to-ceiling picket cabinets and drawers, rolling library ladder, and retro ground tiles. That it appears like a country cupboard of curiosities is exactly the purpose. With a purpose to attract locals of all ages and budgets, together with the sizable group of retirees with modest pensions who’ve lived most of their lives within the neighborhood, the area wanted visually acquainted and reassuring design codes; the outdated world aesthetics appear particularly inviting in distinction to the modern, Scandi-style fit-outs that seem in lots of fashionable shops meant solely for youthful clients.

And whereas they carry some higher-ticket objects, akin to smoked fish, soy sauce made in Touraine, and cookbooks that will attain 30 to 40 euros, inclusive pricing was central to their imaginative and prescient. “There’s a lady who comes each week to purchase one single flower as a result of she will be able to’t afford way more, however after we talked about how 80 p.c of flowers bought in France are sourced from distant, she is aware of that it’s a better option irrespective of what number of she buys,” says Poretta.

As we speak, the superstores that killed the unique épiceries are in sharp decline. Philippe Moati, co-founder of the Observatoire Société et Consommation, argues it is a response to what he calls the dehumanization of commerce. “These shops are related to overconsumption and extra, which society at massive is rejecting increasingly as a consequence of broad consciousness of its environmental implications,” he says within the documentary Hypermarchés: la Chute de L’Empire (Hypermarkets: Fall of the Empire). Whether or not you chalk it up as a backlash towards mass consumption and large field shops, a gradual realization that our methods of buying as a society have distanced us from the sources of our meals, or a response to the evident sameness of latest buying, the response has helped foster the épicerie’s revival.

“I feel there’s undoubtedly a little bit of nostalgia for rural life wrapped up on this [resurgence],” says Mathieu Magnaudeix, an creator and journalist for Mediapart. “That concept of proximity, of reconnecting with a group as if in a small village even for those who reside within the massive metropolis.”

Citydwellers could also be buying and selling Carrefour for nook shops, however that’s chilly consolation to the residents of small cities who’ve misplaced the very outlets that impressed new city counterparts. Magnaudeix has vivid childhood recollections of the regulars who would frequent his grandparent’s energetic épicerie, which they ran throughout from the Périgueux practice station within the Dordogne from the late Nineteen Fifties till their retirement in 1992. As we speak, many of the companies in that city of 30,000 residents have both shuttered fully or battle to remain afloat. Someplace alongside the road Magnaudeix’s grandparents’ épicerie turned a Hertz automobile rental workplace.

The 2008 international monetary disaster hollowed out a lot of the agricultural economic system and left many principal streets abandoned. As an alternative of shoring up small companies, native leaders invested in one-stop outlets and modernist buying facilities on the outskirts of city. No matter specialty outlets that survived within the years following the financial nosedive had been miraculous exceptions, and entry to high quality produce and components stays restricted in lots of areas.

Small and medium sized cities want an épicerie revival as a lot as main cities — and paradoxically they’ve gotten a style of that for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic, which has pressured the closure of many different small companies. Over the previous few years, the federal government labeled some conventional meals outlets as important and permitted them to remain open throughout extended lockdowns, giving residents an opportunity to rediscover their utility and worth.

Nonetheless, there are different threats to the burgeoning épicerie motion, grocery store chains like Monoprix and Franprix have taken word of the pattern, shifting their very own methods so as to add regionally made and small-batch merchandise to cabinets, from craft beer to mustards, and set up cafe-style counter seats for consumers to eat ready-made meals. Pichon additionally warns that some shops posturing as épiceries truly supply their items from Rungis, the world’s largest meals market wholesaler on the outskirts of the capital. “In the event you don’t do your analysis and waltz into any outdated épicerie in Paris, Strasbourg, or Metz, you’ll discover the identical olive oil, the identical tea, the identical canned fish,” she says. France additionally isn’t resistant to digital commerce. Whereas the speed of on-line meals buying stays marginal in comparison with the U.S., hovering at 8.9 p.c of meals retail gross sales, it’s rising. In response to the info analytics agency Kantar, that determine might exceed 10 p.c by 2023.

As a lot because the épicerie resurgence is about rejecting trendy buying habits and preserving the previous, it’s additionally about creating a brand new future, half of a bigger recalibration throughout French tradition within the final decade. A technology of inventive entrepreneurs has confronted unprecedented instability and the decline of heritage trades.They’ve realized that massive companies are usually not going to be the drivers of change as they claimed to be, can’t shield French manufacturing, and received’t curb extra consumption and waste for the sake of the planet. These frustrations have fostered a large wave of profession shifts in vogue, design, and meals, as folks drop off the company ladder to change into cheesemongers and farm-to-table cooks — typically trying backward to look ahead. Reviving these outlets is a method of acknowledging the écpierie’s historic operate within the French meals panorama and suggesting they’ll as soon as once more function an important piece of small city and concrete social life — one frozen artisanal pizza or flower at a time.

Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based author and the creator of The New Paris and The New Parisienne: The Ladies & Concepts Shaping Paris.



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