Sunday, October 13, 2013

French pastry shop in China, Changsha

About two years ago, a Chinese opened in Changsha a french pastry shop.
I wanted to tell you about this adventure for a long time.

For its location the owner choose Changsha newly built city center (check Changsha interactive map for the exact location north of Changsha following Xiangjiang river). This is a clever choice so as to benefit from a "affordable" rent while avoiding serious competitors. For instance no Starbuck ogier.

The place is called belle vie (beautiful live). It must be a cute name for Chinese people. But being a frenchman it immediatly reminded me of belle ville, Paris Chinese district... It is much less romantic!

It has a terrace even though this doesn't matter that much for Chinese customers. Most would rather stay shut down insidem with the air conditionning...

The pastry offer is not that french...
At first the owner reproduced some classical french pastry including multiple layers macarons...
But soon she had to change all the offer. As I once explained Chinese customers don't like real macarons. On one side they all want to try macaron as it is a strong cliché (such as snails, Bordeaux wine...). On the other side the real macaron is much too sweet.

The actual offer follows Chinese people clichés while taking into account Chinese taste: black forest, cheesecakes american style. 

In fact there are less french pastry: mousses, opera.
She could have had mille feuille or puff with cream or eclairs... But these pastry are the work of a baker! The owner probably doesn't have this know how!

The owner once told me that she had to learn how to prepare cheesecakes in China. Unfortunately in France she didn't learn this skill.

She came to France to study business in some business school. She was probably following he parents mold like most Chinese children following clichés: to become a business man/ woman (meaning make tonnes of money...).
But she soon realized what awaited: unemployment or limited opportunities.
She therefore studied pastry and got a chance to work in famous Parisian pastry shop.

I believe that her shops makes some profit but this wasn't easy work...
Many ended up and end up bankrupt.
The keys of her success? a low rent and primarily the offer targeting professionnal customers and individual customers.
You should understand that a large part of the profit is generated via sales to hotels, weddings, birthday, reception: special cakes, tiered cakes...

The presentation is unique. This is what professionnal customers and wealthy individuals love.
Taste matches Chinese customers expectations (cheesecakes are similar in taste to Mac café, Starbuck for instance).

Cheesecake manguo, rose, oréo... The owner understood Chinese customers taste.

The offer of the french pastry shop includes chocolates and ice creams.
These were two unfortunates tries...
Who didn't think making money while selling home made ice creams and sorbets in China. Unfortunately Chinese customers don't share our tastes. You find everywhere on the street cheap ice creams at 3, 4 rmb. Soberts are fine but it has a price: initial investment (equipment), fix costs,in the end you should sell at 20 rmb or more... impossible to cut both ends in these conditions!

As for chocolates: most Chinese people don't like them. They can't distinguish between some real pure cacao and some pale copy... poor Chinese customers educated to love crap food. I noticed that the few chocolates place (I know only 1 or 2 in Changsha, a city the size of Paris) use some icing and stuffing to cut on chocolate and add taste. But I will wrote about this in the future.

25 rmb for one ball. But it was delicious. All the ingredients are imported.

The owner told me that as she came back from France, she first worked for some wealthy Chinese people. She helped them open several french pastry shops... While saving money and finaly could open her own shop!
Last year one of these french pastry based in Changsha went bankrupt. But the concept was too limited: basic decoration (decoration should be exceptionnal for this kind of shop); high rent; pastry prepared with Chinese ingredient (in the end some normal taste); a just so so presentation; no or limited sales to professionnal customers?

Manguo Cheesecake.

The mousse is delicious and beautiful same we can find in France: chocolate and passion fruit. What is more for Chinese customers it is not too sweet as contrary to macarons.

At its starts the pastry shop only built a ground floor, but then had to build a second floor so as to put more sits for wealthy customers. It might be that selling to professionnal customers was not enough?

Fashion magazines it is very french and pleases Chinese wealthy, "snobish" customers...

At its start the kitchen was opened. But I am not sure why the owner decided to build a wall? Hygiene issue? fabrication process? or she needed some space for the Illy coffee boxes? (ironic)

In the future the Chinese owner wants to open a school to train Chinese people to french pastry. She might also open some french restaurant.
I have heard that even though the french pastry shop has a unique offer, a pastry good presentation, know how, sells to B to B and to B to C... she doesn't make that much profit... You should understand that many Chinese people don't see the point to buy much better pastry. They would rather simply follow a famous brand logic: shop at famous brands... no matter what the product offer is!

Still the owner (alone or most probably with some partners) just opened a second french pastry in the city center. I will show it to you as I am really curious about this: rents in the city centers are high, her shop has many employees... costs are high. As this concept mainly sells to business customers (70% 30%?), why open in the city center?

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