Fearsome marketing, low prices but artisanal quality… Not content with having imposed itself on the bread market, the Marie Blachère group has managed, in less than 20 years, to rise to 3rd place in fast food, after McDonald’s and Burger King.
“A very white wand please.” Demand is commonplace in Marie Blachère bakeries. If the lover of crispy bread pouts in front of these soft alabaster strings, the French seem to appreciate their barely baked bread more and more. So much so that an article in the prestigious daily Wall Street Journal was surprised by this growing demand for a more doughy bread, quite far from the standards of French gastronomy.
The president of the National Bakery and Pastry Confederation, Dominique Anract, recognizes that nine out of ten loaves that come out of his oven have not finished cooking. “It’s the customer’s decision”, confesses this owner of a bakery in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.
A request that Bernard Blachère, the founder of the successful bakeries Marie Blachère, seized on. She even made it a marketing argument. Since its creation in 2004, the chain has offered three different baking options for its baguettes: well-done, golden and white.
“It was Bernard Blachère who had the idea of offering the three to satisfy the greatest number, confides Jean-Marc Conrad, the manager of the franchise and catering division of the group based in the Bouches-du-Rhône. like it very baked but my children like it white, so I take both. Overall it appeals to young consumers and tourists who prefer softer breads. And then you can put it in the oven to brown it if you prefer .”
A strategy that has been emulated. Ange, the direct competitor of Marie Blachère, launched in 2008, also offers this triple cooking to its customers.
74 cents per baguette
Satisfy as many people as possible. This is the obsession of these new bakeries that have been flourishing for several years in France. And among them, Marie Blachère managed to build a bread empire in just a handful of years.
The concept germinated in the mind of Bernard Blachère, a market gardener from Ardèche who had the idea in the 1980s of setting up a bakery attached to his fruit and vegetable store in Aubenas (06). Faced with the refusal of the bakers approached, he decided to recruit one, Hervé Porcherot, and together they imagined an innovative concept: larger bakeries (400 m² on average), located on the outskirts of large cities and which combine tradition (bread is kneaded on site) with marketing worthy of mass distribution.
A single price in all bakeries (74 cents per baguette this year), a free loaf for every three purchased and, to end the day on a good note, all products at half price in the half hour before closing.
While keeping the attributes of a real bakery. While the marketing approach is reminiscent of industrial strategies, the products at Blachère are artisanal. The group’s 2,000 bakers (for 11,000 employees) actually make the bread, pies or pizzas at the point of sale. They therefore do not content themselves with baking products prepared in the factory.
“The group has no factory, specifies Jean-Marc Conrad. Everything is done on site, we even raise our sourdough ourselves for our bread, we don’t buy cans of ready-made sourdough.”
The first Marie Blachère bakery (named after the founder’s daughter) opened in 2004 in Salon-de-Provence (13). The success is dazzling. Local residents love the “Baguette de Marie”, a little shorter and wider than a traditional baguette. Word of mouth does the rest, the queues get longer every day.
The multiple bakes offer, 4 for the price of 3, half price at the end of the day… Customers love this new bakery concept and the brand quickly becomes a reference. We buy our bread “at Marie”.
Above all, the store is easily accessible on the outskirts of the city and has a very large car park. Being able to park easily to go and buy bread, a new loan from large retailers and its famous creed “no parking, no business”.
70 openings in 2022
We also have lunch there. The bakery launches into snacking with an offer of salads, sandwiches and pizza for the lunch break. A few tables, chairs and a counter, the bakery becomes a fast food restaurant.
“They are very strong, enthuses Bernard Boutboul, president of Gira Conseil, which specializes in catering. They have introduced “low-cost” into a basic product. They bring in customers for the baguette and they sell them something else: a pie, a sandwich, a pizza… It allowed them to free up margins to finance their growth.This is McDonald’s strategy 40 years ago: they open massively to stifle competition. “
Moreover, after McDonald’s and Burger King, Marie Blachère is now the third largest restaurant chain in France. In less than two decades, it has covered the territory of 700 bakeries (70 openings planned for 2022). Still faithful to the initial concept, Blachère bakeries are generally attached to Grand Frais stores with which the group has entered into a partnership.
Blachère also has two brands of fresh products (Provence’Halles and Mangeons Frais) which together generate 200 million euros in turnover.
Today only Paris does not have its Marie Blachère bakery. However, the group has planned to open a “Café de Marie” at the start of the school year, a smaller restaurant concept, in the Saint-Lazare station district. But he does not intend to cover the capital of Marie’s bakeries.
“Our concept is 400 m² and it’s hard to find in Paris, admits Jean-Marc Conrad. And we don’t want to sell our baguette at 1.50 euros. With us it’s the same price everywhere.”
The company, which today has a turnover of 1 billion euros, 800 million of which is in bakery, now intends to develop franchises and attack the international market where it has made timid progress until now (two bakeries in New York, a in Lisbon and some in Belgium).
Seven franchise stores have already been launched and around thirty contracts have been signed. If the investment is expensive (600,000 euros on average including 100,000 euros of personal contribution required), the group assures its candidates that the return on investment is rapid with a turnover of 1 million euros per bakery at the end two years.
A late development that surprises industry observers.
“Why wait 20 years to start a franchise? Asks Bernard Boutboul. This desire for openness has contributed to the rumor of a possible sale of the group.”
Rumor quickly denied last March by Bernard Blachère in a message sent to the group’s 11,000 employees. The founder remains at the helm. The man who owns 91% of the company and whose assets are estimated at 160 million euros by Challenges has not yet eaten his white bread.