Vraiment, leave it to the French to offer decidedly upscale choices in frozen food. Several times we have walked past these Parisian stores with a mere glance in their direction, apparently without enough curiosity to take a closer look. I’m talking about Picard Les Surgelés, and I must steal a phrase from someone else who penned a word or two about this chain. They likened the store to a cryogenics laboratory – not, mind you, that I’ve been to such a lab – and the reference seems to capture the cool exterior, relative lack of color, fluorescent lighting and refrigerated cases along the walls.
Then someone in our delightful “France Fanatics” Facebook group, stepped out with the question: “Has anyone else who travels to France found Picard great in a pinch, or am I alone on this?” As with every other French-related question in this 2,000-member group of Francophiles, candid and enthusiastic responses poured through Mr. Zuckerberg’s gates.
The comments ranged from ‘very good products’ and ‘In the US, the closest thing … is probably Trader Joes’ to ‘the French homemaker’s best friend’ and ‘Everything was delicious!’ As I probed further, I found that the company was founded in 1906, is headquartered in Fontainebleau, and now has 1,000 stores in France and has expanded to Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, and Sweden.
So why all the excitement? How are they different from Marie Callender, Stouffer’s or other prominent frozen food brands in the United States? Well, I think the dominant differences are quite impressive – like raising their très haute offerings well beyond mac ‘n cheese and chicken pot pies to include an enticing collection of French recipes as well as fresh-frozen, unenchanced ingredients like fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry.
Let’s try a sampling, shall we? How about Basque chicken or a savory potato-ham-Emmentaler cheese dish, saumon en croute or barbeque ribs? Add lovely desserts – even coffee éclairs, starters and even some essentials like minced shallots, chopped herbes and a variety of sauces from Thai curry to beurre blanc. With over 1,200 products, the range is pretty magnificent and even downright exotic – peeled chestnuts and pumpkin purée, to name a couple.
Especially appealing is the care that goes into production and distribution. Tapping into the deeply-rooted food culture of France, Picard stays close to farmers and other food producers to tap high quality sources – fully 67% of their products originate in France, where pesticide and fertilizer use is strictly limited. Production standards are precise and rigorous; and the company controls every aspect of production, ensuring adherence to required temperatures and avoiding the need for additives and preservatives.
Shoppers utilize large, insulated bags to maintain those proper temperatures en route to their homes. Not surprisingly, the French ranked Picard their favorite brand a couple of years ago, and it fails to be a well-guarded secret that Picard is well represented at many dinner parties.
I’m convinced. Next trip, for the occasional at-home meal, we’ll stop in at Picard Surgelés. I imagine we will start with the molten chocolate cake, apparently quite the favorite with over two million purchased per year!
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