The art of eating à la française is not limited to cheeses, wines, and gourmet restaurants. You can find a number of authentic French foods and several iconic brands without even getting on a plane. However, unlike certain Italian products such as pasta and prosciutto, French ingredients are often hard to find in stores. “The word gourmandise has no English translation,” says Estelle Tracy. Originally from France, she has lived in the United States for 18 years and is the author of the highly useful Guide de survie alimentaire aux Etats-Unis (unfortunately only available in French).
The mission is difficult, but not impossible. A range of “historic” products are found in many supermarkets across the country, such as Maille mustard and several different cookies by LU, including Petit Ecolier and Pim’s. Both of these companies belong to food-industry giants. The first has been owned since 1999 by the English-Dutch group Unilever (Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, etc.), while the second was acquired from Danone in 2007 by the American multinational Kraft Foods (since renamed Mondelez International). Orangina, an orange soda with a huge fan base in France, has a slightly more complicated story. After being imported to the United States in 1986, the small round bottles were produced under license in Canada, then in Florida, and then in Canada again. Driven by a change in ownership, Orangina was set for a March 2020 relaunch in several American cities, but the lockdown measures provoked by the Covid-19 crisis put its plans on hold.
Certain French food-processing leaders are also established in the United States. The best-known among them is dairy giant Danone, which Americanized its name (Dannon) as well as most of its yogurt recipes, which are very different from those sold in France. The Andros group does produce apple sauce in Virginia, but imports its Bonne Maman preserves and jellies from France. While some of these products are also sold in major American stores such as Target, Walmart, and Costco, the East and West Coasts are generally better equipped through local chains such as Wegmans in the Northeast. “There are significant discrepancies between cities,” says Estelle Tracy. “In areas where the population travels regularly, there is a higher demand for international flavors and French products are easier to find.”
The U.S. chain Trader Joe’s offers a plethora of French products sold under its own brand. Started in California in 1967 and currently owned by German group Aldi, the company has more than 500 outlets in around 40 states, and has always been open to world cuisine. It imports its brioches, macarons, mustard, frozen puff pastry, and Breton butter directly from France – although never shares the names of its producers.
If you are looking for more choice or if your favorite French brand is nowhere to be found in stores or delis, several websites specialize in food imports. A far cry from the behemoth Amazon, smaller companies such as Simply Gourmand, Le Panier Français, and Yummy Bazaar – to name a few – offer hundreds of often unobtainable products including Tagada strawberry candy, Teisseire syrups, and Henaff pâté. “We know our customers; they range from Francophile Americans to French people living in the U.S.,” says Valérie Brunet, who founded Le Panier Français in Chicago 15 years ago with her expatriate husband, Jean-Pierre. They began importing products at home because they “missed French food,” but now have their own warehouse and work directly with some 20 suppliers.
Another online platform, D’Artagnan, is perfect for lovers of fine meats. Founded in 1985 by Ariane Daguin, the daughter of French chef André Daguin, the business was a longstanding supplier for premium eateries and delis on the East and West Coasts before selling directly to customers via its website. The company offers poultry, beef, and pork raised on its American farms or imported from France. There are also Spanish meats and lamb from New Zealand. Last but not least, D’Artagnan sells everything you need to make home-cooked cassoulet — one of the most iconic dishes in French cuisine!
Article published in the July 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.