European Business: Your traditional core product is known as Lunettes de Romans. Can you describe it for people unfamiliar with the Italian specialty it is based on?
Jean-Christophe Radouan: In every Italian bakery you will find large round sandwich biscuits. Between the biscuits is a jam layer, which is visible through holes in the top biscuit. The 19th century Italian immigrant workers brought this tradition with them, but adapted it to French tastes. Our Lunettes de Romans have an elongated oval shape and two holes at either end that make them look like a pair of spectacles – hence the name. They are filled, like their Italian counterparts, with apricot, strawberry, raspberry or blueberry jam, or a chocolate, caramel or vanilla cream. Our biscuits are made according to a traditional recipe but using industrial methods.
European Business: What proportion of your production is devoted to making this traditional product?
Jean-Christophe Radouan: The production of Lunettes de Romans in both the original size and a mini version accounts for 60% of our production output. We produce under our own brand, Maison Jacquemart, and under private label for the house brands of the major supermarket chains. Our own brand and private label products are listed with all the big names in the grocery sector, which gives us a strong presence throughout the country.
European Business: What about export markets? How well do your biscuits travel?
Jean-Christophe Radouan: When one of the major supermarket chains in the rest of Europe has a promotional ‘French week’, for example, then our biscuits make it onto the shortlist of typical French produce that is offered. However, we are not generally very active in export markets. But that is something that we want to address in the future. We are confident that a traditional, regional product like ours will go down well in other European markets as well as further afield. In addition to strong contacts in Germany, we have also made initial contacts with potential customers in Japan, Canada and the USA. In fact, I was brought on board in January of this year with the specific goal of growing our export activities.
European Business: What proportion of your ingredients are locally sourced?
Jean-Christophe Radouan: We are fortunate to be located in a region that specializes in fruit production. That means we have all the ingredients we need right on our doorstep. We have been producing our biscuits here in Romans-sur-Isère since 1989 but we are the only local producer to do so on an industrial scale. Here, every bakery and patisserie has its own version of our signature biscuit, but we are the only one with the capacity to serve a nationwide or even international customer base. Outside our home region there is one other manufacturer of spectacle-style filled biscuits, but they only make organic products. We also have a line of organic biscuits but do not see ourselves in direct competition. At present, we are weighing up the pros and cons of applying for protected regional status for our biscuits. The process is complicated but it would help us to differentiate ourselves in a crowded biscuit market.
European Business: What do you think are the qualities that set your biscuits apart at present? Jean-Christophe Radouan: Primarily it is the quality of our raw materials. You can’t make a high-quality product with low-quality ingredients. That is our guiding philosophy. It is also the fact that our products appeal to both young and old alike. They awaken memories among older generations and appeal to the taste buds of younger people. As such, they are on the shopping list for the whole family.
European Business: Besides your traditional ‘spectacle’ biscuits, is there room for other products in your range?
Jean-Christophe Radouan: Around 40% of production capacity is devoted to making other products. These include other sweet pastries such as filled tarts and different style biscuits. In all of them, we try to make the best use of locally sourced ingredients. The organic trend also continues to grow so we have also developed an organic line to satisfy customer wishes in this are