French charcuterie takes a slice of the action in the major markets of the US and China

08-08-2016 Le jambon de Bayonne, emblème de la gastronomie française
Logo France Bon appétit

While France’s appetite for charcuterie is among the greatest in the world, the French have also developed an important export business.

According to French industry body FICT (Fédération française des Industriels Charcuterie Traiteurs), production of charcuterie and cured meats reached 1 million tonnes in 2015 and a 0.8% growth, with a turnover worth 5.8 billion euros (0.5%). French exports increased by 4.3% in value largely as a result of the demand for poultry, beef and other meat-based charcuterie. Belgium (152m€), the UK (103m€), Spain (87m€) and Germany (85m€) are France’s major customers.

Foreign importers’ recent taste for French charcuterie did not just happen by chance. Industry players have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to boost awareness of France’s charcuterie around the world, notably in the US and China. The potential of theses two markets is significant. In China, French charcuterie arrived on the scene in March 2014, when four companies received the official certificate and go-ahead to export their goods, which was a major industry first.  There is a huge potential for French charcuterie abroad. According to the FICT, the potential market size for French charcuterie in China equates to 170 million professionals (or “cadres”), who are the most likely target market. The federation has similar aspirations for the US.  In 2008, Breton company Henaff was the first French company to obtain the highly prized health and safety certificate to be able to export its produce to the US, and over the last 12 months others have followed suit.

Bayonne Ham seeking expansion in the US

A speciality of the basin of the river Adour in South-West France, Jambon de Bayonne or Bayonne ham is France’s most famous cured ham, and as a result currently accounts for 20% of the country’s production.

Carte de la France avec la zone IGP Jambon de Bayonne

Source: Jambon de Bayonne

With its typically delicate and subtle flavours, it is often associated with summer dishes and entertaining.  Every summer it has a starring role at the famed Bayonne festival and is always a huge success at this essential annual event for exporters and sellers of local products. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase our product in a relaxed, convivial setting. Our commercial partners will remember this iconic, vibrant, regional festival.  They dance and sing until the early hours,” explains Pierre-Emmanuel Brotelande, Director of communications and exports for the Consortium of Bayonne Ham.  This year, a delegation of six Americans attended the event, which is testament to the importance of the US market for this sector. Among them was the manager of “Le District”, a large French brasserie in Manhattan and a beacon of French culture in New York.

fetes de bayonne

Fêtes de Bayonne

Source: Fêtes de Bayonne

Adapting to foreign standards

While the Consortium of Bayonne Ham can congratulate itself on selling its first slices of ham abroad in July 2015, it can also be proud of receiving the US health and certificate or agrément, a rare achievement. “We began our journey in 2010 and set up the first training sessions in 2011, with more to follow in 2013 and 2014. 30-40 participants including quality-control managers, American consultants and French veterinary services were trained in French legislation. 


Source: Jambon de Bayonne

We also carried out a US pre-audit of around ten Bayonne Ham producers in association with the DGAL (French Directorate General for Food) and FranceAgrimer (part of the French Ministry of Agriculture). It was a whole-industry process from abattoir through to processing unit,” underlines Pierre-Emmanuel Brotelande. Which serves as a good indication of the necessary steps entailed to export PGI-status products into the US. A year previously, Bayonne Ham was granted its heath and safety certificate to export to China. The commercial prospects are very high – it’s just a matter of it all coming together.

Bayonne Ham – a beacon of French quality

The evolution of the perception and sales of Bayonne Ham has gone from strength to strength, since PGI status in 1998, launching its first exported goods in 2011 and more recently with the opening of the two major markets of the US and China. But there is still a long way to go.  Only 10% of sales of this speciality ham cured with Salies-de-Bearn salt, which also has PGI status, are sold abroad, with the objective of reaching 20-25% in the medium term. To this aim, the Consortium will continue to rely on its principal export partners.

While Europe currently dominates exports (85-90%), with Germany and Belgium its major proponents, non-European countries are coming on board.  “Sales have got off to a flying start in the US and it would not be beyond the realms of possibility over the next two to three years for it to become one of our major markets,” explains Pierre-Emmanuel Brotelande.  This success is also down to the positive image commanded by French products in foreign markets.  “French provenance is an important guarantee of food health and security and flavour, which is in our every interest to promote. We might not fully grasp the extent, but France commands an extremely positive image around the world. Made in France is highly evocative and stirs many positive associations, notably pleasure, conviviality, quality and flavour. It’s a huge asset,” concludes the Director of communications for the Consortium of Bayonne Ham.

Given the expertise of the French charcuterie sector, the future is looking bright. A carefully tailored approach to the requirements of each market, coupled with promoting the sector’s rich heritage are inherent to its success. Not forgetting innovation. Case in point, in South Korea Bayonne Ham is savoured with sushi and chopsticks!

Le jambon de Bayonne, emblème de la gastronomie française

For more information:

Maison du Jambon de Bayonne