La Grande Epicerie: gourmet shopping in Paris
In a city famous for fantastic food, it’s no small honor to be a regarded as Paris’ premier specialty store. La Grande Epicerie, located in the chic seventh arrondissement, has held that distinction for nearly a century. Situated in a 3,300-square-foot space, this gourmet market was established in 1923 as a food hall within Le Bon Marché department store. Originally featuring a range of premium teas and canned foods (such as marmalade and pâté), the Left Bank institution was immediately recognized as a high-end delicatessen.
Today La Grande Epicerie is the largest specialty food market in the City of Light, with 30,000 different products from all over the world and 391 employees. The store has exquisite desserts made in an on-site, subterranean laboratory—a modern Willy Wonka factory. La Grande Epicerie boasts a wine cellar with more than 3,000 selections of champagne and spirits as well as France’s largest collection of bottled waters (such as Swarovski-encrusted H2O frosted bottles). “Even water can be beautiful,” says Marketing Manager Solenn Gubri, touching on a key element for the store.
MERCHANDISING IS EVERYTHING
All products at La Grande Epicerie must look as good as they taste—or even better. For example, a small Coca Cola Light bottle is “dressed by Karl Lagerfeld”; Orangina bottles are clothed in limited-edition bags designed by Antik Batik. Even products that are not “dressed” by well-known designers are carefully curated with an eye towards fun packaging (such as the brightly colored, vintage labels on strawberry marshmallow Fluff). Sometimes it is the product itself that is beautiful, such as the Daniel Mercier milk chocolate spoons or Can á Suc frog-shaped sugar “cubes.”
Located next to its parent store Le Bon Marché (which is owned by LVMH group who owns Louis Vuitton), La Grande Epicerie takes food fashion seriously. When Le Bon Marché’s windows feature a Los Angeles theme, La Grande Epicerie builds complementary food displays that feature a collection of American products. Those products would not necessarily be served together—such as potato chips and truffles—but they will most certainly look good together.
“We focus on the mise-en-scene [visual storytelling] of the products by playing with the effects of colors in spite of the culinary fit of the products,” says Gubri. “We also create an atmosphere around these products. The decorator-in-chief works on the mise-en-scene of the store’s marketing operations, the general interior design and the shop window communication. He works hand-in-hand with our chefs on the creation of new products.”
SATISFYING THE CLIENTELE
For the more than 8,000 people who frequent the store daily, this attention to visual detail helps guarantee a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Twelve to 15 percent of these clients are tourists who like to purchase “anything that looks French with symbols of Paris,” such as the Eiffel Tower, says Gubri, or original French products such as Christine Ferber jams or Maison de La Truffe truffle salt. Meanwhile, because of the huge selection of foreign goods, ex-pats flock to La Grande Epicerie to get their fix on hard-to-find items like Peanut M&Ms, Brianna’s Caesar dressing or Marmite.
But the majority of the customers pass through as they would in any specialty market—picking up groceries to make for dinner or something from the prepared food section (such as a foie gras sandwich). Fifty-four percent of clients come in at least once a week, 33 percent more than once, 31 percent once or twice a month and 15 percent less than once a month.
INSPIRED PRODUCT SOURCING
Of the 15 million products the store sold in 2009, best sellers were Kusmi teas, olive oils from Château d’Estoublon and Fernando Pensato, jams by Christine Ferber and CARLA, and Can à Suc sugars. “We were the first to have sugar that wasn’t just sugar but was an object of beauty,” says Gubri, referring to tubes of colored sugars that the store used to carry. “Now we carry more than 150 types [of sugar],” she adds. La Grand Epicerie also offers Edible Weasel Coffee that has been regurgitated by Vietnamese weasels, a Spanish salt with real silver and gold flakes in it and a bottle of 2002 Romanée-Conti Bordeaux that sells for €8,500.
La Grande Epicerie is famous for its patisserie and bakery. Gubri says the store sells 50 kilos of macarons, “the cupcakes of France,” per day. Meanwhile, the American-style cupcake craze has made its way across the pond, with Pastry Chef Benoit and his 30 helpers cranking out hundreds per day.
The retailer also reinterprets classic French confections in new ways. For example, it makes a traditional Mille-feuille (Napoleon) with vertical layers instead of the conventional horizontal layers. Because the patisserie is the first thing customers see when entering the store, Chef Benoit works with the decorator-in-chief to create confections that complement displays in the fashion store next door. When Le Bon Marché featured a snow globe a few winters ago, Benoit made a stunning snow globe cake prominently displayed in the front of the patisserie case.
Though the beautiful sweets greet customers at the entrance, the other departments are no less impressive. There’s a large produce section, stalls with meat, poultry and fish, an incredible bakery, a wall of yogurts and, of course, a substantial section of stinky, irresistible French cheese. La Grande Epicerie makes its own prepared foods to take out and it also does catering. Like the adjacent Le Bon Marché, the food store prides itself on hosting fashionable events such as book signings, tastings, wine-themed events, special breakfasts and other gourmet gatherings.
La Grande Epicerie has been located in the same space for almost 30 years. While the owners have no plans for expanding the physical space, they do plan to expand into cyberspace with a multilingual website and e-boutique. Otherwise the store will continue to do what has always made it so successful. “La Grande Epicerie has a strong reputation thanks to its creativity and its talent for spotting products that you will find nowhere else: the most exclusive, the best, the most beautiful, the most original,” says Gubri. “It is the way we select the products that makes our reputation.” Given how well that formula has worked so far it is not likely to change any time soon.
By Deborah Moss for http://www.specialtyfood.com/
Retail space: 3,300 square feet