French baker breaks the British rule in biscuits with his petits beurres


For months, the Nantes biscuit makers kept the change to the 108-year-old recipe a secret. On June 24, 1994, it was leaked through the French daily newspaper Libération: since February the famous petit-beurre biscuit from the company lu no longer contained 12, but 13.5% butter.

The violation took place without any prior warning. A consumer survey had shown that the biscuit was perhaps a bit too pâteux (mealy, doughy) for today's consumer and not enough feuilleté (flaky, flaky).

On September 8, 1886, the imprint of the baking tin of the 'Petit Beurre Lu Nantes' was officially put on paper in the registers of the English machine constructor Vicars. On April 9, 1888, the mark and shape were filed in the Commercial Court of Nantes.

Serrated like a postage stamp: fourteen teeth in width, ten in height, four protruding but not breaking corner ears.

And made from the best products, a special tray that made the serrated edge a little browner than the heart. "Over a hundred years old and still have all his teeth," reads a lu text today.

The creator of this work of art was named Louis Lefèvre-Utile. His father Jean-Romain Lefèvre had moved in 1846 from his native village of Varenne, department of Meuse, to the prosperous commercial city of Nantes.

He established himself as a pastry chef at 5 rue Boileau, in the heart of the city, and started producing biscuits de Reims and confectionery. Two years later, he married Pauline Utile. As soon as they packed their products, they had both their initials lu printed on them.

A brand name was born.

Their son Louis, 24 years old, took over the business in 1882. Inspired by the English biscuits, which dominated the market in those days, he created a complete range of new biscuits with names such as marguerites, revenez-y and croquignols.

With his petitsbeurres he started manufacturing on an industrial scale in 1886.

It was such a success that the Revue des spécialités alimentaires was able to embarrass its British competitors as early as 1889: 'This is not the biscuit of British origin, dried out like an English woman, tasteless like a boiled kohlrabi, which our neighbors from overseas are so fond of. to be fond of, bland and tedious as a foggy day on the Thames.' In 1899, the new factory on the Bacokade in Nantes employed no fewer than 1000 workers with a production of ten tons a day.

In 1913 that was twenty tons of biscuits a day, more than 6000 tons a year.

Louis was obsessed with quality, or so the annals say. He only used semi-salted butter that had been stored in clay pots in the old way, and fresh, strictly controlled milk from the Nantes region. The recipe would remain unchanged for 108 years.

Only in 1900 Louis omitted the bit of lard he had added to make the biscuit brittle. To market a new biscuit like paille d'or, he planted raspberry bushes on his own land and advised his neighbors to do the same.

Louis advertised in a modern way and he also brought in quality to gain brand awareness. He set up his own factory for his tin packaging boxes, which quickly became a collector's item.

To illustrate them, he attracted the most famous artists of his time, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Mucha. The actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared in his advertisements, for which well-known poets wrote the lyrics.

An idea to which his descendants have remained faithful. In 1957, his grandson Patrick LefèvreUtile enlisted the help of Raymond Loewy, one of the most famous designers of the twentieth century, to redesign the petit-beurre packs and the lu logo.

For advertising illustrations he attracted Pol Mara and Jean-Michel Folon, among others.

In 1975, lu joined the Céraliment-lu-Brun group, an association of 18 biscuit manufacturers, which also includes the rusk factories Heudebert and Pelletier. In 1978 General Biscuits was founded with 32 companies from all over Europe, including Verkade, De Beukelaer and Parein.

In 1986, this group was absorbed by the food giant BoussoisSouchon-Neuvecel, bsn, whose name was changed to Danone Group in 1995.