The Ukraine war has caused energy prices to skyrocket across Europe. In France, if costs don’t decrease soon, some bakers might have to say adieu!


Baguettes in a boulangerie in Rennes, France. Credit: Clover Choi

 This article, by high school student Clover Choi, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Clover is a student at School Year Abroad, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

When a war breaks out, it’s not just one person who pays the price. A bulk of Europe is on ‘power-saving mode’ through reducing all forms of energy in homes and establishments around the continent.

Heat, hot water and stovetops are not the only necessities that have shut down in France as a ramification of the Ukraine war. Two day-to-day, essential pieces of French culture have also been altered due to the economizing energy reduction.

These cultural staples in every French household are the boulangeries, the bakeries that prepare and sell classic and customary French breads, along with the baguette, the national bread of France.

Thousands of local boulangeries are closing their doors due to the energy crisis.

According to Franceinfo, 80% of boulangeries in France reported that they were at risk of bankruptcy due to dramatic increases in energy costs. Through increased energy costs and the rise of baking ingredient costs due to inflation, bakers have tried mu​ltiple tactics to overcome these unimagined challenges such as working at night to reduce electricity bills and increasing bread prices.

One boulangerie hit by ballooning energy costs

Thierry Bouvier is an experienced baker and the owner of Bouvier Thierry in the heart of Rennes, France. He has been running his primary boulangerie for 35 years along with a concept cafe in Rennes called MY by Thierry Bouvier for eight years.

Bouvier experienced unforeseen challenges running his successful business after the energy crisis hit. The costs of electricity shot up for Bouvier’s bakery, with the price per kilowatt of energy increasing by 5%. Before his recent contract change in January 2023, Bouvier’s monthly energy bill of €1,800-2,000 Euros was multiplied by four due to the rise in energy costs.

Since Bouvier uses a wood oven for baking his breads, the oven graciously helps their energy conservation. But even with the helping hand of having a wood powered oven, surcharges are still prominent through everything else electric, from mixers and electric machines to lighting.

To overcome these energy struggles, Bouvier’s team optimizes their energy usage by working at night. “The energy is less expensive during the night,” Bouvier said. “We use this to our advantage by utilizing our two electric pastry ovens to make a maximum of pastry products for the day from 3 am to 7 am.”

Energy was the most impacted factor for Bouvier’s enterprise because his team needs energy electricity for not only their boulangerie, but their connected pâtisserie as well. Bouvier Thierry uses energy from electricity and gas for all factors of the baking process such as heating, chilling and freezing his goods.

The cost of flour rises in the heat of war.

If it’s not the energy that wipes away local boulangeries, the rise in ingredient prices brings a heap of new struggles. Aude Suhard is the owner of L’Atelier du Pain in the small commune of Thorigné-Fouillard in Rennes, France. The baker and business owner has been running her business for 14 years.

Her enterprise is not affected by the European Energy Crisis because she bakes with a fuel oven rather than an electric oven, leaving no substantial increase in energy bills. But as a result of inflation from the Russia-Ukraine War, the cost of baking ingredients has risen, forcing Suhard’s boulangerie to increase the price of its baguette.

“We raised the baguette price to €1.15 last September, and will need to raise it again to €1.20 this February,” Suhard said. Egg costs have multiplied by three due to the bird flu in Europe, and the cost of flour has risen by 20% due to inflation, she said.

Even with the escalation in bread pricing, a local consumer of L’Atelier du Pain continues to buy from her local boulangerie every day rather than the supermarket. “I buy from the boulangerie because the bread is good, the flour is French, I know the origin of the wheat and I’m guaranteed that everything is fresh,” she said.

There is a personal reason as well. “I have a connection with my local bakery and the bakers,” she said. “The people who work in local boulangeries usually live in the same neighborhood or city as you. There is a link to the community.”

The double whammy of Covid and Ukraine conflict

Europe began to see a lack of energy supply in 2021 from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Europe expected this inconvenience would soon bounce back to its previous state, but the lack of energy quickly worsened in 2022 because of the Russia-Ukraine War as Russia is a leading producer and exporter of oil and gas to many European countries. According to Bloomberg Economics, rising energy bills cost Europe as much as $1 trillion.

Bakers around the country have begun protesting over the surging power prices. On 23 January, bakers from all departments of France met at Place de la Nation in Paris to demonstrate against the rise in energy prices.

The French government responded to the action by structuring target measures to support the boulangeries. Financial assistance will be given to those who struggled during the months of November and December of 2022. In addition, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced the possibility of postponing the payment of certain social and tax charges for all bakers who had cash flow difficulties.

The baguette isn’t the only victim of high energy costs.

I’ve been studying abroad in France this year, and I have seen minimally-heated restaurants provide blankets to customers and public pools lower their pool temperatures, with some permanently closing. Many schools have considered online education again due to power cuts.

In my own home, my host family and I limit our energy consumption by controlling our electric stove and oven usage, turning the lights off in any room that’s not occupied and utilizing public transportation whenever possible. Conserving energy in France opened my eyes to the privilege of never having to think twice about my energy consumption back home.

Purchasing bread from the local boulangerie is a quotidian activity in France’s culture. Not only are the breads delicious, but these businesses, which are independent from corporate companies, create relationships with customers in their local communes.

The baguette is a staple in every French meal at any time of day. This delicacy is so prominent in France’s food culture that on 30 November 2022,  UNESCO inscribed the national bread on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

So bon appétit! And turn off those lights.

Three questions to consider:

  1. How is the bread we eat connected to the war in Ukraine?
  2. In what ways does high energy prices affect bakeries?
  3. Why might you pay more money to shop a small local store rather than a big chain?

Clover Choi is from the U.S. state of California and is spending her third year of high school studying at School Year Abroad France. Her home high school is Culver Academies. Her favorite subjects are English and French, and this year she is fascinated by her French Political Science class. Her favorite hobbies are dancing, taking photos, blogging and filming YouTube videos. In the future, she would like to become an entrepreneur.

Share This
EconomyBaguette me not: Energy costs endanger beloved boulangeries
%d bloggers like this: