Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Heart Picard

Like many people, I have become a huge fan of Picard. Picard, the "surgelé king" of France, where you can get deep-frozen comestibles, from foie gras to haricots verts to ... well, you name it, just about everything except lettuce for your midday or evening meal. If Picard gave frequent buyer rewards, I'd be one rich lady.

But I have to admit that I was too intimidated to enter Picard for the first six months that I lived in Paris. I didn't grasp what it was when I passed by, assuming that it was a laboratory or maybe an appliance store. I had no idea that it held in its deep frozen storage lockers the secrets to easy, tasty dinners for one, two, or even 16. From the sidewalk, it has a fluorescent, chemistry-lab look that, as a newbie in Paris, I didn't associate with yummy microwaveable gourmet dining. It was simply a clean, well-lighted place.

I have no fear of frozen food -- heck, I was raised on it -- but in recent years in the US, I associated quality frozen food with the folksy, organic charm of Trader Joe's: employees in Hawaiian-print shirts, jovial atmosphere, wood paneling. And a great produce section as well.

Having passed by many Picard storefronts since my arrival here, I was flabbergasted to learn, eventually, that Picard was the secret source of many a good dinner party in Paris. Sssh. Don't tell. Most hostesses, unless they are really close friends, won't tell you that dinner came from Picard. Many friends say that their purist spouses will not allow Picard in the house. But they sneak Picard int o the kitchen from time to time, and hide the emptied boxes deep in the recycle bin.

But the thought that I've been ruminating about for some time is: why, in a country where enticing store displays are otherwise de rigueur, does Picard have such an austere, almost sterile look? The best I can figure out -- and I'd love feedback on this -- is that French tradition has for a long time distrusted frozen food. Certainly, there is nothing that can compare to the fresh produce, meats, cheese, and fish at the outdoor marchés. It whets the appetite just to stroll down the stalls at any of the open-air markets anywhere in France.

So perhaps Picard, from what I can see, has taken the marketing angle of emphasizing what they do best -- FREEZING. The notion of respecting the maintenance of sub-zero temperatures (respecter la chaine du froid) is the mantra of Picard. They sell insulated bags to make sure the products arrive home properly frozen.

I always feel that I'm being a lazybones, cheating in a way, in my all-too-quick-n'easy dinners. Ah, but I can justify my way out of a paper bag (or an insulated one). I tell myself that if I were really cheating, I'd use their handy home delivery service.


The Diva said...

What an interesting post. I've learned more about France from you and Corey at Tongue in Cheek than I ever learned in college.

I live in Oklahoma, so I really enjoy reading about one of my favorite countries. Thanks.

Misplaced said...

Picard is great and when you think it can't get any better they bag your groceries for you.

Pat Saperstein said...

I used to avoid these places, too, when I lived in France, because they seemed so sterile. But it's interesting to know that their food is actually good!

Victoria said...

When I was in France over the holiday vacation, I wandered into a Picard store simply because I had no clue what it was.

Glad to know I wasn't the only one.

blueVicar said...


I confess that I too thought Picard was a laboratory or doctor's office. I mean "surgele" looks a lot like "surgery" for the uninitiated, i.e. ignorant, like me. So I missed the incredible pleasures and delights for almost a year. Then someone spilled the beans, no not literally, but a French person mentioned the store to me and I got my nerve up. Wow!! Life was never the same...until I got back here.

Now, for the $64 question...why don't they catch on in the USA???

Riddle me that one and I'll send you a frozen turkey can't get those at Picard as I recall!

Meilleurs voeux!!

Chris Late said...

As BV said, please arrange for an outlet in the U.S., preferably down the street from me in Brighton.



Ksam said...

I love Picard, and all the great things you can get there. Corn on the cob! regular corn! bagels! The list is endless....

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Misplaced: I know, I love it that Picard always bags your groceries. It always takes me by surprise.

Dee, Pat & Victoria: I guess my so-unFrench-message I've learned is now I don't judge a book by its cover, yay or nay, in France. Eye-catching vitrine doesn't always mean there's stuff inside I want to buy. Ditto for the reverse!

BV & CL: I wish I had some clout with the higher-ups at Picard, but I'm just a lowly cliente. Their website has a link for sending them suggestions

Maybe a few nudges (plus the dollar/euro exchange rate) could send them winging their way to a establishing a branch or hundred in the US! I'm thinking outlets like Whole Foods etc.

We can dream, can't we?

Cheers to all

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Oops! Hi Sam; I wasn't ignoring you but we were leaving our comments at the same time. Are there a lot of Picards where you are in Brittany, or do you have to travel there specially, like a trip to Mecca?

Dumdad said...

Picard rocks!

Ksam said...

Haha, no problem. And to answer your question, here are quite a few in my area - we just moved, but my old town had two. Now we live in the country, but there are still three within a 20 minute drive. So not too bad!

AnneS said...

Good news! Picard’s largest supplier in France now sell products at Whole Food under the Whole Kitchen/Catch brand. Just look for the "Imported from France" stamp.
You can find Cheese souffle (my favorite), Scallops with butter, garlic & parsley (great for appetizers) & a lot more ...

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Anne: that is news that will make a lot of people verrry happy. Thanks!

The Late Bloomer said...

I'm just catching up on a few of your posts, Polly, and I had to chime in here: so many people have raved about Picard -- many of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances -- and I was thoroughly convinced that they didn't have an address in the western suburb where I live... Little did I know that apparently they DO and that I simply didn't look hard enough! It's not within walking distance, though, unfotunately, so when I finally make it there to stock up one of these days, I'm going to have to get my boyfriend to take me in the car... Otherwise, I'd have to bring home some frozen goodies in one of those insulated bags in the métro!

I HAVE heard that Picard has pretty much everything under the sun, including frozen fruit and delicious dishes, but I had no IDEA that they had frozen BAGELS!! Holy cow, that's a HUGE discovery for me -- now I HAVE to get into one of the shops...

(And this, after more than five years in France... Where have I been? I'm always learning something new...)

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