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|Hi there Nicey|
I've just returned from a cellar stocking and retail therapy trip to the Auchan hypermarket in Calais, and was looking forward to trying the Bastogne biscuits you reviewed a few weeks ago. But could I find them? Non, I could not.
I confess that I spent a good cinq minutes perusing le section des biscuits, (as a former McVities' biscuit salesman - albeit nearly 40 years ago - it's a habit that's hard to break), and it struck me that it could really do with a good "merchandising". This, as I was informed on my first day with McVits, was "the bringing together of psychology and salesmanship". The idea was that if the shelves were arranged with each of the manufacturers' products grouped together, and shelf space allocated in line with market share, the average British housewife (who in those days was 5 feet 3 and a half inches tall and spent 2s 9d (14p) a week on biscuits), would a) be able to find what she was looking for more easily, and b) buy more of the wares of McVitie and Price than she consciously intended. I was never convinced by this, but Marketing said it worked, and their word was law.
So, despite being a foodie's paradise, nul points to Auchan in that department, mais je also have to dire that le packaging of French biscuits en general est tres uninspiring. So all I ended up buying (apart from cheeses, salamis, jams, monster lettuces, etc etc), were the usual Spekuloos, some Bon Maman Galettes, and the quintessential Gateau do Bretagne, which admits to a 25 per cent butter content, and a heart attack in every mouthful. In fact a lot of the French biscuits had "beurre" in their noms, so les French sont obviously pas so worried about le chloresterol as nous Brits. But then butter is quelque chose they do seriously better than us.
After denying Gordon Brown the excise duty on les vins et bierres, we decided to faire le pique nique. (A very nice place for one, or a sit down in your car, is cap Gris Nez, just past Sangatte. On a clear day you get a magnificent view of the white cliffs of Dover). Whilst munching my baguette I got to thinking that the biscuit sections in our local Asda and Tesco also leave something to be desired - perhaps biscuit shelves are not so attractive because there are fewer manufacturers these days. What do you think?
Mind you, Waitrose does do the merchandising thing better, and they also stock Mc Vities' Lyle's Syrup Creams and Fruit Shortcake. Shame the aisle in our local one isn't too wide, making browsing difficult.
Does this sound like a moan? It's not meant to.
|Nicey replies: Ahh I'm only familiar with the Auchan biscuit aisle at Boulogne. As soon as the tyres touch down in Calais I am filled with the urge to leave the place and head south, even if it is only for twenty minutes. We too like a spot of the old pic-nic when in France. There is also good sport to be had worrying the French by eating at times that are out of sync with them due to the hour time difference and being through a casual British approach to lunch time based on feeling peckish rather than some national time signal. Often as we have sat on a camp chair in some French lay by at quarter past two in the afternoon chewing on a bit of sauciseson whilst disembowelling an over ripe melon with spoon, we have received shocked glances from the occupants of a passing Renault or Citreon.
Once when camping in deepest darkest France we began about lunch at almost 1:30 and finished at around 3:00. One of the other French campers who we had gotten to know quite well came across to see if we were all right. He had been fretting that one of us had been taken ill, or that we had been involved in a road accident. He had to employ some very seldom used French expression that may have been "Vous mangez en decolarge?" or something like that. Despite two of our party being fluent French speakers and both having lived in France for at least a year each neither had heard this, which they best translated as "eating out of time". We were all quietly pleased with ourselves for creating such an air of tension just through shear applied Britishness.