As France endures a third national Covid-19 lockdown in the midst of the growing third wave, some 60,000 non-essential stores across the country this Sunday – Easter Sunday – will join the estimated 90,000 already closed since March 20 in hard-hit areas such as Paris. In France, it has hardly caught my eye that chocolate shops are included in the list of merchants who are authorized to be open. This high season really counts as an important one for France’s chocolate cooks.
In fact, the French are among Europe’s foremost chocolate friends. The average household in France consumed 7.2 kg of chocolate last year, according to the country’s chocolate union, Syndicat du chocolat. French connoisseurs have a significant weakness for dark chocolate, which accounts for 30 percent of the chocolate the country enjoys, compared to five percent in Europe as a whole, according to the Kantar market research group.
Ninety percent of the country’s chocolate manufacturers are small and medium-sized companies, according to Syndicat du chocolat.
With an upward turnover of € 3.3 billion last year, the profession employs 30,000 people in France, from French giants (Barry Callebaut, Cémoi) and foreign multinational companies with factories in France (Lindt, Ferrero) down to craftsmen with the most creative assumptions about Easter standards.
Some creations are practically museum-worthy: In 2021, La Maison du Chocolat’s master chef Nicolas Cloiseau created a limited edition chocolate art entitled “Egg UFE – unidentified flying eggs” handmade from 7 kg of chocolate for a sweet sum of € 1500.
However, the average annual Easter chocolate budget in France was € 19.31 in 2018.
The Easter season, which according to Nielsen represented 296 million euros in chocolate sales in 2019, is next after Christmas (759 million euros) important for the country’s chocolate chefs. The week leading up to the Easter weekend generally represents more than half of the receipts for Easter chocolate.
The shock of France’s first lockdown last year left the country’s chocolate suppliers in the lurch. With some closed retailers and locked consumers perhaps focused on other priorities, Easter chocolate sales fell sharply in 2020. Large retailers saw chocolate revenues fall by 27 percent during the important season.
“Children are the most resilient segment on the market, especially when locked or self-insulating older guys [chocolate] and sharing is limited to close family and friends “, according to the French newspaper LSA Conso.
This year, even when the country is limited again for the Easter weekend, the industry believes it is better prepared. Chocolate makers and retailers stretched the season to get the festive candies in front of consumers earlier and developed “click-and-collect” and online sales, launching the “lessons of the first lock”, as Syndicat du chocolate director Patrick Poirrier has called them.
Although it is no stranger to the festivities in France, the Easter bunny, who is of German origin, is not the star at the moment here that it has become in the Anglo – Saxon world. In the Catholic tradition in France, Easter claws say that chiming bells distribute the candies. Chocolate bells, eggs and chickens form a significant part of France’s Easter treat iconography, with fish as another biblical reference that usually becomes chocolate at the moment (although rabbits, ducks, pandas and kangaroos are obviously also welcome).
The bell comes from the symbolic pause in ringing its bells that churches mark between Good Friday and Easter Sunday in mourning for Jesus Christ before the resurrection. To explain the silence of the bell, children were traditionally told that the bells had flown to Rome to be blessed by the pope. When they return, among lush chiming, they are said to take back chocolate eggs that “land” in fields and gardens – or on the apartment’s balconies.
While the country’s first shutdown last year involved closed parks and gardens as well as a home order that allowed just one hour a day to get fresh air within a mile radius, France’s latest shutdown encourages venturing outdoors. The new rules allow unlimited time outdoors within a radius of 10 kilometers before 19:00 nationwide curfews and public green areas remain open. The result of a chocolate cake? Easter eggs hunting.
“Outside! It makes all the difference compared to last year when we had to stay inside,” Poirrier, who is also CEO of chocolate giant Cémoi, told Le Parisien. “That’s what gives us hope for this release.”