Hauts-de-France, a strong powerhouse of the agri-food industry in France

December 22, 2023

Many associate the French food industry with the Southwest or the South of the country, Burgundy or the region around Lyon and the Alps. However, when it comes to the French agri-food industry, Northern France should not be overlooked. From major supermarket retailer Auchan to brands such as Bonduelle or bakery chain Paul, the Hauts-de-France is present in the plate of citizens around the world.

A traditional heavyweight of the industry, Hauts-de-France is located in the northern part of the country, integrating both former regions of Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardie. At the crossroads of Europe’s motorways and rail networks to Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, it is the base of a region which counts 78 million consumers within 300 km; or half a day by lorry. It is one of Europe’s wealthiest consumer market with €1,500bn in purchasing power.

Hauts-de-France, a strong powerhouse of the agri-food industry in France

However, agriculture also has a long tradition here. The region’s natural assets (fertile, silty soils, groundwater and favourable rainfall) have made it an agricultural champion in a number of areas. More than two-thirds of the region is farmland (2.1 million hectares) with over 25,000 farms. They provide permanent jobs for over 50,000 men and women, while another 55,000 work in the agri-food and wholesale sectors.

Hauts-de-France, a strong powerhouse of the agri-food industry in France
Ratte potatoes are an iconic staple food of Hauts-de-France (Photo: Dinkum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

40 of French-produced food staples are from the region Hauts-de-France. The region even ranks in first position for the production of onions, chicory, endives, peas, Brussel sprouts or wheat in France. 10% of all the milk produced in France comes from the Hauts-de-France. Leading producer of soft wheat, potatoes, sugar beet, chicory and vegetables for processing are based in this Northern corner of France.

The biggest “ambassador” of Hauts-de-France agricultural excellence is indeed the potato. Almost 2 out of every 3 potatoes produced in France come from Hauts-de-France. The region’s 5,800 producers supply the fresh produce, starch, processing and preserving industries. In Harnes (Pas-de-Calais), for example, 15 to 20 tonnes of chips leave the factory of a major name in the sector every hour.

Producing iconic food

The large number of varieties – some 200 in the region – is designed to meet the diverse needs and tastes of the industry. For French consumers, the region’s most emblematic variety is undoubtedly the Ratte du Touquet, recognisable by its gherkin shape. Rediscovered in the 1960s, it is regularly honoured by many gourmets in France and beyond, including in the UK and the USA.

As the leading French region for chicory production, Hauts-de-France’s most grown variety is the white endive with yellow tips or Witloof chicory. However, the region produces the wilder Verona and Chiogga chicories, of Italian origin, while the Carmine variety is a natural cross between the three previous varieties.

Excellence in agricultural products is also reflected in the region’s cheeses. These include Maroilles, which is the only AOP/AOC cheese in Hauts-de-France. It was invented almost 1,000 years ago by the monks of Maroilles Abbey. Around 4,100 tonnes of this cheese are produced every year.

As for meat, a local cattle is the Bleue du Nord, a mixed breed, producing both milk and meat. In 2013, a cheese was created exclusively from the raw milk of the Bleue du Nord breed. The cheese is matured for six to eight weeks and has a square shape and a blue-grey colour.

Hauts-de-France, a strong powerhouse of the agri-food industry in France
Bakery Paul, a brand made in Hauts-de-France (Photo: LC/Cleverdis)

Home to international agri-food producers and retailers

Thanks to its strong agri-food and industry sector, Hauts-de-France became the birthplace of the French retail industry—and home to head offices and procurement centres for major supermarkets, hypermarkets and food/restaurant chains.

That includes world-wide famous names such as Auchan, Paul or Flunch. But also the presence of global players such as Barilla, Coca-Cola, Heineken, Herta, Materne or Nestlé. They helped turn Hauts-de-France into a centre for agri-food R&D, backed by university research units for new-product development and innovation. Market leaders including Bonduelle, Roquette, Lessaffre, Ingredia and Tate & Lyle have funded major R&D and innovation labs conducting ground-breaking research in nutrition and food products.

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