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Diary of Business trip in Paris

I was given the lucky task of visiting France and stayed there for 5 days from Oct. 19 to 23.

I visited Paris again after 10 years but not much seemed to have changed. I asked one of my acquaintances in Paris if there had been notable change in Paris but his answer was simple, "No". But the unchanged, eternal beauty of the city is probably the reason to keep the tourists coming back.

Cafés/restaurants featuring natural ingredients.

We usually imagine that a meat dish, such as beef, canard, lamb, rabbit, ham & sausages, is the most preferred choice for French people. According to a survey of French people asked about their favorite dish, "Magret de Canard" (the breast meat of ducks raised to produce foie gras.) came first, followed by "Mussels" with French fries or "Choucroute" with sausages, and "Couscous" (a coarsely ground pasta made from durum wheat: served with vegetables and meat) was voted as the third-favorite dish of French people.

Of course, their "top-pick" is "meat", however, contrary to the result, cafés/restaurants featuring natural ingredients seems to be a trend among Parisians. EXKi (a Belgium café) is a popular organic food chain in Paris; there are as many as 4 EXKis found around Opera district. It is a cafeteria style restaurant at a reasonable price. The concept of the restaurant is said to be a quick-casual restaurant using only fresh and natural ingredients.

The café I tried in Opera district is also a natural café like EXKi. Once you get into the restaurant, the staff there explained about the prepackaged foods (salads, fruits, sandwiches, etc.) beautifully displayed on refrigerated shelves; you can order hot food such as soup from the staff at the back counter. It was a cold day in Paris so I had carrot soup with a piece of baguette and a pack of fresh fruits. I didn't buy a beverage as I had some water with me-sorry…but it didn't seem to pose any problem. The carrot soup was deeelicious; I felt so detoxed with the carrot soup and fruits.

By the way, EXKi that I mentioned earlier operates over 70 restaurants worldwide, as of October 2014: Belgium (the very first restaurant), France, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherland, USA, and many more. I think it is a matter of time before the restaurant arrives in Japan.
Check out EXKi by clicking the link: http://www.exki.be/

Speaking of natural ingredients, I would like to share with you about bio products (organic produce/ organic processed foods) in France. The number of bio products available at supermarkets and department stores has increased dramatically compared to 10 years ago. According to France News Digest (Weekly Japanese information newspaper), 40-plus percent of French people now buy a bio product at least once a week.

The products bearing AB (Agriculture Biologique) logo, a national logo for organic products, are found in many grocery stores. The logo featuring stars in the shape of a leaf is the EU organic logo. Unlike in Japan, in France, it is surprising to find so many different food labels according to French and EU regulations.

Food labels in France

I would like to discuss the difference in food labelling between France and Japan.

Information panel labelling
Net weight, for example, can be displayed on the front label panel in Japan, with an indication where it can be found, meanwhile net weight has to appear in the same field of vision as the name of the food (product) in France.

List of ingredients
In France, all ingredients have to be listed together in descending order of weight, contrary to Japan which requires to declare ingredients in two separate groups, food additives and ingredients other than food additives. France also doesn't require a declaration if the ingredient makes up less than 2% of the weight of the finished product. Furthermore, while the term "amino acids" is allowed to be used in the list of ingredients in Japan, France requires to specify all amino acids used on the label.

There are some concerns when it comes to the space being devoted to list all the ingredients used in the product to meet consumers' needs, but it is a good system that consumers can check every ingredient used on the label before eating the food.

Allergies
Any ingredients derived from a substance causing allergies are written in italic or bold on a label in France. In EU, those substances are emphasized through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients, for example by using such as highlight, background color contrast, capital letter and underline.

In Japan, a list of allergens, as specified ingredients included in the product, is provided in the same field of vision as the list of ingredients. Although there is no specific rule in terms of highlighting those allergenic ingredients, different countermeasures to highlight allergens are adopted on a voluntary basis; a list of allergens is sometimes provided outside of information panel.

Information on the presence of allergen must be provided to consumers in an easy-to-follow manner, because allergies constitute a danger to the health of those concerned. Out of consideration to such consumers, both France and Japan have specific rules in this respect.

Units of energy value
Energy value on nutrition facts label is specified by using the unit "kj" or "kcal" in France. The "kj" unit is unfamiliar to us in Japan; kcal orキロカロリー(kilocalorie) must be used to describe energy value.

The date of manufacturing/best before date
Date format used on a food label is different between Japan and overseas. Under the Japanese regulations, the order is year/month/date while in France, date/month/year format is used. There are some cases that have led to complaints involving best before date in France; the best before date left, by mistake, on a packaging of food products exported to France from Japan misled consumers into out-of-date product due to the different date format. Japanese consumers get sometimes confused with the best before date indicated on the label or packaging of imported food products.

Term "Natural"
I've found "aromes et colorants naturales" on the packaging of sweets from France. It is prohibited in Japan to use the term "natural" for food additives and flavouring, while it is permitted to use such term in France as long as it has been made following an appropriate process.

Nutrition labelling
Nutrition labelling is not mandatory in France as of today-which is to be mandatory starting December 2016-but there are certain rules on mandatory nutrition declaration in France, as with the case in Japan.

The difference between the two countries includes the declaration of "saturated fat" and "sugars", elements of importance to public health. I think they are declared on the label as one of preventive measures that allows consumers to select healthy foods. In the meantime, as for "saturated fat", it will be recommended to declare in the future in Japan, and also "sugars" will be requested as a voluntary declaration.

In the meantime, careful attention will be required when we refer to the nutrition facts panel on imported food products. The nutrition declaration as well as its order are different between two countries.


How did you find it?
Again, we realize there are so many differences in food labelling of two countries, and it is fun to get to know food labels, which vary widely depending on different countries and cultures.

December 2014