Monday, April 27, 2009

American flair and the possibilities of white bread

CHÂTEAUROUX, France - In the 1960s a local entrepreneur, Paul Picard, the owner of a baked goods business, was impressed by the strange square white bread that the American servicemen ate [on the nearby army base]. Like other Frenchmen accustomed to long, crusty baguettes, Mr. Picard had never seen anything like it, yet he thought it offered possibilities.

So he visited bakeries in the United States to learn how it was baked, then returned to France where he essentially re-engineered Wonder Bread. To give it an American flair, he called it Harry’s American Bread and decorated the packaging with the stars and stripes of the American flag. No one can say who Harry was, probably just a name that sounded American.

Though the base closed too soon for Mr. Picard to sell his bread there, it soon became a hit with the French. Now Harry’s huge baking plant outside Châteauroux bakes about 130 million loaves of white bread and other bakery products a year. That is about one-third of what Harry’s produces at other plants scattered across France. Its six bakeries spread across France make it the largest producer of packaged baked goods in the country.

Excerpted from After 43 Years, a French Town’s Nostalgia for Harry and Joe Lingers (NY Times)

Some helpful clues here as to how weird versions of American products come into existence in Europe. I am still uncertain, especially in this white bread case here, how such products maintain lasting popularity once the thrill of possibility has worn off. It must be related to the flair, because it certainly isn't the taste. This may be the key to the Obama fingers.

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