In Mayenne and Sarthe, thousands of poultry roam in green parks. The chickens cluck, the little free-range chickens chirp and the turkeys cluck. The breeds are chosen with care and are of rustic strains, such as the Géline de Loué. These free-range poultry constitute the very essence of the Label Rouge, a quality French sector that meets European standards. “In our country, a chick does not go around the earth three times,” advocates Benoît Droin, vice-president of the National Union of Poultry Labels of France (Synalaf).
If more than 6,000 breeders take care of Label Rouge poultry, there are thousands more who produce meat, cold meats, dairy products, seafood, honey, fruits and vegetables and even bread. On the shelves, these productions are identified by a small red sticker, which guarantees their origin and their production conditions. But with food inflation exceeding 20% in two years, the French are arbitrating their purchases and turning away from more expensive products, particularly organic and Label Rouge.
On the shelves, Label Rouge poultry is, for example, 1.5 times more expensive than standard products. Jean-Marc Loizeau, president of FedeLIS, the federation which brings together the Label Rouge, geographical indications and guaranteed traditional specialties, recognizes this: “Consumption is not there, largely linked to fairly high prices for finished products . The French are making choices and moving towards low-cost references.” Added to this phenomenon is also “overproduction” in certain sectors. This year, supply exceeds demand and weakens farms.
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“For Label Rouge meats, we should see a drop in consumption of around 10% in 2023,” Jean-Marc Loizeau bitterly predicts. Production of Label Rouge pork and charcuterie products should also see their consumption decrease by 5 to 10%. Broiler poultry is not spared either, with a 1.2% decline in household purchases in the first half of 2023. All sectors combined, Le Label Rouge should therefore lose between 5 and 10% of its consumption share.
But for the Label, it is almost impossible to reduce its prices, at the risk of seeing producers go out of business. Concretely, breeders and farmers must cover the increase in raw materials, such as cereals, “certification costs” and “respect the specifications”. In poultry, producers must in particular allow access “to a large outdoor space with trees”, “ensure good quality plant food”, have “a longer breeding period” and be in compliance during “the strict controls” on their exploitation. So many parameters that inflate the price of a chicken, a turkey or Label Rouge eggs.
However, producers do not blame traders, like LDC, who also take care of animal slaughter. “At the beginning of July, they lowered their prices by 5%,” explains Benoît Droin. Professionals point more to mass distribution, accused of having excessive margins on Label Rouge references. When contacted, no group wished to comment on the subject. “We are going to start meetings with large retailers to find a solution and achieve satisfactory margins,” explains Jean-Marc Loizeau.
The president of FédeLIS also regrets “that consumers and the State advocate food sovereignty but that everyone is turning to imported products, which do not respect European standards”. In France, one in two chickens is imported from Ukraine, Brazil or Thailand and it “is generally produced haphazardly, with the use of hormones and employees paid at low prices, according to Jean-Marc Loizeau, That’s everything we don’t want.”
But the Label Rouge sector has not yet said its last word and has launched a vast European communication campaign. “We must explain our operation to the consumer,” insists the president of FedeLIS, who underlines the need “to intervene in collective catering, to reach young people”. In poultry, a specific communication program was launched in 2022 and will last three years. It aims to “reaffirm the values and commitments” of the Label. In addition to a new advertising spot broadcast on television replay platforms, cameras have also been installed in around twenty poultry farms to see the chickens in their pens live. Enough, perhaps, to put quality back at the heart of French dishes.