The Auld Alliance now extends to food, says Stephen Jardine, with a new-found enthusiasm for quality Scottish produce
‘French can’t get enough Scottish food”. When it comes to headlines, that one must sit alongside “Scotland wins World Cup” in the least likely files.
Surely France is the world’s top culinary destination, the pinnacle of gastronomy and home to some of the best food in the world? Tell that to the French.
For a generation, eating habits have been changing across the Channel and Scotland has benefited more than most. The Auld Alliance has been replaced with a New Foodie Alliance built around exports.
Last year, France was the number one export market taking produce valued at £257 million. This year, that figure is expected to rise still further.
A big part of the story is Scottish salmon. It seems the French just can’t get enough of what we produce. Scottish salmon was the first non French product and the first fish to obtain the French government’s prestigious Label Rouge mark, indicating the finest foods. Since then, consumption has soared.
In Pret a Manger in Paris, the number one selling sandwich is Scottish salmon, not French brie.
Fifteen years ago, I was working in Paris as a journalist and went to cover the opening of the first British sandwich shop in the city.
At that time lunch still meant two hours in a café or at the very least, a cheese and ham baguette. No-one expected the British sandwich to find an audience.
However, by the time I found the tiny premises in a side street near the stock exchange, there was already a huge queue around the corner. They all wanted to be the first to discover something new and different.
Soon after that, Marks and Spencer arrived in Paris and the love affair with British food really took off. When the flagship store closed due to company restructuring, I remember demonstrations in the streets by locals, who were incensed they wouldn’t be able to get their hands on custard, or bourbon biscuits.
After centuries of tradition, the French decided when it came to food, they wanted a change and unlikely as it sounds, they looked to us for inspiration. With its healthy image, salmon has emerged a the favourite dish of a nation seeking to move on from a culinary tradition heavy on the cream and butter.
This week, Scotland’s salmon producers are in Brussels promoting their goods at Europe’s biggest seafood trade fair. French buyers will be much in evidence as the appetite for what we have to offer continues to grow and grow.
The challenge for us is to take the enthusiasm they already have for salmon and whisky and expand it into other areas.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government earmarked £300,000 to promote Scottish beef and lamb exports to western Europe and that has already started to pay dividends.
But perhaps the real test will be when we can stroll over a bridge on the River Seine, walk down a cobbled street on the Left Bank and find a lovely little Scottish bistro packed with happy customers.
Now that will be the real French revolution.
• Stephen Jardine is founder of marketing firm Taste Communications