STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is the program that is going to give you the latest details on the bread market. The French are not eating bread the way they used to -consuming just half a baguette per day, we're told. That's down from a full baguette, on average, 40 years ago. The stats worry the French bakers' lobby enough that they have launched a campaign to keep bread on people's minds. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Bread is still central to any French meal, but the way people eat those meals is changing. Bernard Valluis is head of the Observatoire du Pain, the French bakers and millers' lobby.
BERNARD VALLIUS: People used to sit down around the table with the family or with friends, to have lunch or dinners. You cannot imagine, if you go in a restaurant, or in a house, that you have lunch or dinner without bread.
BEARDSLEY: Now, says Vallius, more people snack and eat on the run, especially young people and those living in cities. While nearly 97 percent of the French eat bread, they don't necessarily eat it every day, says Vallius. The campaign aims to change that.
VALLIUS: What we want to do is just to make sure that people have the reflex, going home at night, to buy the bread. That's all.
BEARDSLEY: Inspired by the California Milk Board's campaign Got Milk? the Observatoire du Pain came up with the slogan: Cou cou, tu as pris le pain? which translates roughly as, hi there, did you pick up the bread? The slogan is plastered on billboards and inscribed on bread bags in 130 cities around the country.
(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
BEARDSLEY: Le Grenier de Pain is the most popular bakery in my 15th Arrondissement neighborhood. It's run by sisters Elsa and Emmanuelle Condet, who aren't even aware of the eat bread campaign. But they hardly need it. Most of the time people are lined up out the door to buy bread from the Condets. Else Condet says their success is because everything here - pastries, cakes and bread - is made from scratch and on the premises.
ELSE CONDET: (Through translator) It takes five hours to make a baguette - from the moment you weigh the ingredients to when you take it out of the oven. And that's the key. Time. The longer you let the dough rest and ferment, the better the bread will be.
BEARDSLEY: While all French bakers used to do it that way, mechanization is on the rise and many boulangeries even bring in frozen dough to bake what are known as industrial baguettes. They're white, contain additives and are often pretty tasteless. But a decline in quality has also lead to the emergence of a new breed of artisanal bakers devoted to doing it the traditional way.
(SOUNDBITE OF OVEN DOOR CLOSING)
BEARDSLEY: Emmanuelle Condet pulls a caramel-colored baguette out of the oven.
EMMANUELLE CONDET: This baguette as you can see, the color is caramel. OK? When you do like this you can hear, it's crispy. OK?
(SOUNDBITE OF CRISPY BAGUETTE)
CONDET: So when you cut it...
(SOUNDBITE OF CRISPY BAGUETTE)
CONDET: ...inside, you see the holes, which is the sign of the traditional way to do the baguette.
BEARDSLEY: There's another recent trend that sends shivers up any traditional baker's spine. More and more people like their baguettes softer and undercooked. The Condets say this is a result of inroads made by artificial supermarket loaves. And they say they're trying to educate their customers about good taste.
The vast majority of French people, especially Parisians, still pick up their bread at the neighborhood bakery. France enjoys the highest density of independent bakeries in the world - 32,000 - and the French consume around 10 billion baguettes a year.
BEARDSLEY: New Yorker Amanda McClean has been in France 25 years. She's picking up a well-baked baguette for her husband here. She actually likes her bread more doughy. But Paris has a bakery for everyone, says McClean.
AMANDA MCLEAN: The building just across the street, in front of it on the other side, I can see it from my window is my favorite. This one is his favorite and then there's a new one opening up right over there.
BEARDSLEY: The Bread Observatory's campaign website says bread is a staple of health and conviviality. And should never be skipped, even when you're on a diet.
Eighty-nine-year-old Christiane Serpagli is buying her daily demi-baguette.
CHRISTIANE SERPAGLI: (Through translator)
BEARDSLEY: Bread is vital for me, says Serpagli. In the morning, I always eat a half baguette with lots and lots of butter. She says I've never worried about gaining weight.
SERPAGLI: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.