August 12, 2022

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Cabbages, eclairs, pavlovas… pastry chefs cultivate the single product

It is 7 a.m. in the Meringaie workshop, rue Levis, in Paris. In this kitchen at the back of the courtyard, young pastry chefs make meringues every morning (3,000 large per week) for the five Parisian shops. Same thing for whipped cream, without sugar. The pavlovas, the star of the house, will then be assembled in front of the customers, the cream covered with an armful of fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, peaches, passion fruit, etc.) embellished with a pinch of mint, rosemary, yuzu or lime. Mary Bardon, formerly of the Maison du Chocolat and Fauchon, and her husband Benoitex-Dalkia, waited until they had a busy career and had three grown up children before reviving this dessert in 2015, named after a Russian ballerina but of Australian or New Zealand origin.

It took six months to perfect the texture of the meringue, crisp on the outside and melting in the mouth, and spiced up with a secret spice. Today, La Meringaie achieves 2.5 million euros in sales with around thirty people. It is also present in supermarkets with its meringue base to fill yourself, and has recently been supplying restaurants. Five recipes rotate every week, with a pool of a hundred in the portfolio. No loss, the surplus in the evening is sold via the Too good to go app at a third of the price. “ With this unique meringue we have less preparation than an average pastry chef, and we have reached maximum technicality which saves us time” explains Marie Bardon, who declares the company “close to balance”.

Unique perfume

Popelinithe cream puff specialist opened in 2011 operates in this way, with a laboratory that supplies 8,000 puffs a day to the 8 shops in the capital and near suburbs. Two more will follow by the end of 2022. Lauren Koumetz, its founder, who works with her brother, assumes the choice of the monoproduct. “You need a coherent line, so I refuse to do salty, and if it’s to then sell chocolate bars to make the figure, it has no interest”, she slips. The house produces nine perfumes in the permanent collection and every three months a new one (mascarpone strawberries, candied chestnut, etc.).

Popelini produces 8,000 cabbages a day, sold in neat packaging.

With 50 employees, including 22 pastry chefs, Popelini, profitable since 2014, achieves “between 4 and 5 million euros in sales”. Events – 10% today – is a future strategic focus for the brand. “Often launched in Paris, the challenge is to get out of the capital and go beyond the trendy effect of the beginnings to become a classic purchase”, analyzes Lauren Koumetz, who considers her concept mature enough to launch franchises from the start. next year, in the regions and abroad. Popelini is not the only cabbage company, with the Odette or Bulliz brands.

Controlled cost

In this gourmet universe, a sign as discreet as it is effective, is a role model. It is Aux Merveilleux de Fred who has succeeded, since 1997, in imposing its cake from the North – meringue, cream and chocolate shavings – on our tables. It is now present in 46 stores, including 17 abroad (London, New York, Tokyo, Geneva, etc.). Very simple, this pastry that has become a star requires few ingredients and is available in 7 versions, no more. The cost is therefore under control. A genius idea, copied since, all the stages of production take place in front of the windows in view of onlookers, the locations of the shops being carefully chosen and always at an angle to be visible twice.

“The challenge is to get out of Paris and go beyond the trendy effect of the beginnings to become a classic purchase”.

Lauren Koumetz, Founder of Popelini

The concept: to sell an affordable product in a luxury atmosphere. “It works because it’s the party cake to share, which we bring to birthdays, for family reunions, and which recalls childhood”, analyzes Aurone Nguyen, of the culinary communication agency Divinemenciel. Another key to success: the majority of the network is made up of franchisees, but Frédéric Vaucamps, its founder, is a 50% shareholder. This makes it possible to reduce the initial investment while controlling the homogeneity of the sign. Here, each shop manufactures the product and also sells brioches and waffles. On the other hand, impossible to know the figures of the company, Frédéric Vaucamps refuses any interview. The data that can be consulted on Infogreffe indicate sales of around one million euros for each store (double that for those in Metz or Lille).

The gourmet cake by Aux Merveilleux de Fred.

We thought the single-product pastry, inherited from the famous macaroon, was running out of steam. Admittedly, the star in the field, L’Eclair de Génie by Christophe Adam (3 stores in Paris and franchises abroad), created ten years ago, got a little lost on the way. He moved away from his original concept by diversifying into chocolate (more profitable than pastry), jams, cookies. The brand experienced a bad patch: conciliation procedure for companies in difficulty in November 2020 (turnover was halved between 2019 and 2020, from 5 to 2.8 million euros) and acquisition of a majority stake by the Barrière group.

But these atypical projects continue to attract. This is the case of an upcoming concept in Paris around financiers. “The mono-product adventure is risky but can be very profitable,” says Laurent Le Daniel, president of the Confédération de la Pâtisserie. “There is a real economy of scale with manufacturing that can be automated and a single expertise, but in pastry, it is the labor that weighs the most expensive, between 35 to 40% of the cost, the raw material represents only 20%. » Successful SMEs ticked the right boxes. They have in common to have bet on the quality of a product that remains artisanal, with well-kept, even luxurious shops, a high-end but not repulsive price, and complicated recipes to make yourself. To avoid customer weariness, they regularly renew the perfumes on products that can be declined ad infinitum.

Some still broke their teeth there. In Paris, We Are Tiramisu, born in 2014 around the famous Italian dessert, did not last long. La Maison de la Chantilly, opened in 2015 a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, with ice cream, cabbage and meringue versions, closed four years later. Same discomfiture for some local pastries, which are struggling to break through outside their regions, such as La Tarte Tropézienne in Saint-Tropez, which has closed its shop in Paris. It remains to be seen whether Les Dunes Blanches du Cap Ferret, opened two years ago in the Marais, will find their aficionados.