French bakers have taken aim at a major supermarket chain that is offering inflation-busting low prices for baguettes, saying the move would undermine competition in one of the country’s prized industries. The Leclerc group said in newspaper ads on Tuesday that “because of inflation, the average price of baguettes could increase significantly. That’s unthinkable,” vowing to cut into its profit margins to cap the cost of the signature French loaf at 29 euro cents ($0.33). But bakers, farmers and millers came together the following day to attack Leclerc for its campaign.

In a joint statement, industry organizations said the average price for a baguette, an everyday staple in French households, had reached 90 cents, driven by rising costs for flour, electricity and labor. “Just when the government and all our professions are working to pay farmers fairly, Leclerc launches this campaign that destroys values,” they said, accusing the supermarket of “demagogy.” Competitors “are asking themselves... who can live with dignity from these prices?” the statement continued, also noting that traditional baguette-making is in the running for UNESCO cultural heritage recognition.

Epiphany cakes (galette des rois) is displayed during the ‘Best epiphany cakes’ contest. — AFP photos

“We’re trying to keep up jobs and quality, there’s a price for that,” the head of the ANMF millers’ association, Jean-Francois Loiseau, told AFP. “We have to pay people properly, those who plant, harvest, who gather the grain and make flour, those who make the bread. What Leclerc is doing is shameful,” he said. Christiane Lambert, head of the FNSEA farmers’ union, said that “Monsieur Leclerc will have to explain to us how and how much he pays his bakers” given the rock-bottom prices.

Leclerc boss Michel-Edouard Leclerc told business magazine Capital that prices for baguettes in his shops has been around 30 cents “for at least a year.” “In an environment where (prices for) everything are going up and will keep going up, we wanted to send a signal that Leclerc will keep prices accessible for consumers,” he said. “Players in this sector have to accept that Leclerc shops have control over their relationship with consumers,” he added.— AFP