A vos marques

On your marks…today we are off for a quick tour of some iconic French brands. Oddly, the same word for brands, les marques, is also a literal translation of the word ‘mark’ in English. I suppose there is a link if you think of it as a trademark or a mark of quality.

While people here in France are often somewhat resistant to marketing campaigns, French shoppers are nonetheless big on brands.

My late Belle-mère swore by certain brands as being a sign of quality performance, superior workmanship or good taste. She believed that a good product did half the work for you, whether cleaning the clothes, cooking the food or making you look chic.

Being even more resistant to this kind of thinking than the French, I had to disagree. But after a few years of shopping in France I must say she had a point.

Bottled mineral water is a big thing in France and I’ve blogged before about how we have entire supermarket aisles devoted to it. Badoit, pictured above, with its choice of finely or intensely sparkling bubbles, is still one of my favourite French brands.

When it comes to the other kind of bubbly, it’s a different story. I’ve often heard that the best champagnes are the smaller houses rather than the big brands, by my Beau-père swears by Nicolas Feuillatte. And it’s often more competitively priced at the checkout.


As for the stinky cheese, the Languetot brand of raw milk camembert is one of the best name brands. ‘Au lait cru’ and ‘moulé à la louche’ are two signs that it’s one the good old fashioned way. Along with the ‘appellation d’origine’ that means it’s the real deal.

Le Petit is pretty good, too.



As the old ad campaign went, il n’y a que Maille qui maille…

Maille really is the only mustard for me. Dijon, smooth or grainy, and with no mayonnaise mixed in please! I also have a strong penchant for their cider vinegar as posted with my vinaigrette recipe awhile back…

House brands, which many supermarkets do offer in many product lines, are usually cheaper but not always of the same quality as the original. On the other hand, some are very good value for the money; it’s just a matter of trying your luck.

For those who smoke despite all the warning labels, and an appallingly high proportion of the French population still do, Gauloises cigarettes are a classic. Slightly less stinky than the horrible Gitanes.

By sv1ambo (1975 Citroen DS23 Pallas) [CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

One of the first cars I noticed on the road here was the old Citroen DS. A big, hulking, low-to-the-ground classic of French engineering. Most French people tend to be true to one  of the big three: Renault, Peugeot or Citroën.

Petit Bâteau is a classic brand of kids’ clothing with the iconic sailor stripes. The 1920s brand expanded into clothes for adults a few years ago. The quality of the cotton is particularly good.

There are many more, of course. My morning would not be complete without a probiotic yogurt of the Activia brand. Nature, bien sûr… With a slice of wholewheat toast from Jacquet.

These are just a few of the marques that have marked my experience in France (for which I have received no promotional consideration, I hasten to add!). What are some of yours?



  1. phildange · August 9, 2018

    The word “marque” for brand comes from an old past I can’t define . “Laisser sa marque” for leaving one’s brand is the origin . In old times, craftsmen engraved their personal mark on their work, and marks of the best of them became synonyms of masterpieces .
    “Marquer le bétail” is the French translation for branding the cattle . And in children’s mouth, at least in my childhood, “marquer” was often said for “écrire” .

    • MELewis · August 9, 2018

      Interesting! The two concepts are very closely aligned in our languages, I think. We also say ‘to make your mark’ meaning to achieve recognition in a particular field. Also to mark a document if a signature is not possible. And of course the famous mark of Zorro…

  2. Gus Fergusson · August 9, 2018

    47 years ago I smoked 70 a day, sometimes Gaulloise and Gitanes. Very a la mode! Needles to say I wouldnt be here at 77 if Id continued.
    Today I walk about town persuading youngsters to stop following my maxim”talk to someone instead.” May be thats something positive that could come out of Brexit. But then again France might need the revenue from tobacco to offset the loss of British contribution!

    • MELewis · August 9, 2018

      Glad you quit! I’m also a fellow ex-smoker (30 odd years) although never any French brands back then. Not sure I follow you on the Brexit…?

      • Gus Fergusson · August 9, 2018

        Just a British cultural benefit were happy to lend through our continued friendship. It’s not all about money!

  3. francetaste · August 9, 2018

    My husband would rather have a brand item of clearly inferior quality over a better item without a brand label. Not me. At one time, a brand was a guarantee of quality but no longer.

    • MELewis · August 10, 2018

      It must be cultural. We were raised in Canada and the US to distrust branded merchandise as being over priced and you were only ‘paying for the ads’.

  4. Garfield Hug · August 9, 2018

    Thank you for sharing the brands. A good post on the brands of France.

  5. Osyth · August 9, 2018

    In January when I drove back to Grenoble from Oxford with two of my daughters we stopped for lunch on day two in Dijon. We had the most glorious time in the Maille boutique where there was a positive plethora of different styles and flavours to sample. The young vendeuse was absolutely encyclopaedic in her knowledge and the experience was memorable. Badoit and Evian are my go-to waters and I dressed the girls in Petit Bateau as babies and tots until my pocket dried up and I had to cease and desist! As you know, I am quite serious about cheese but I must admit that I can be found sneaking Une Petite Vache Que Rit when no-one is looking 😂

    • MELewis · August 10, 2018

      Sneak away! Whatever comfort food makes you happy is the best. That Maille boutique in Dijon sounds like it’s worth a visit. The last time I was there was far too long ago. Hope you are getting a fair dose of French brands stateside!

      • Osyth · August 10, 2018

        We have a few. Notably Maille (though only standard grainy or smooth) which is a relief. Definitely the boutique in Dijon is well worth a traipse in. It’s all very elegant and my third daughter (the reason I went at all because she adores mustard) was like a piglet in a mud bath seizing little taste after taste, making notes and pulling faces worthy of the most refined of sommeliers – the fact that she was dressed like a decaying hippy didn’t phase the young vendeuse at all 😂

  6. fatdormouse · August 9, 2018

    When we came to France on holiday, in my youth, Dad would always smoke Gauloises (he was otherwise a pipe smoker, but on holiday, he would swap to cigarettes) and drink Pernod (not Ricard) He would always buy a bottle of the stuff, take it home and then complain it didn’t taste the same.
    I’m not usually swayed by brands – but I won’t have any other baked beans besides Branston beans! (Not that you can get them in France!!)

    • phildange · August 9, 2018

      Ah Ah ! Yes connoisseurs in those times preferred Pernod . I only saw Pernod in my f

    • MELewis · August 10, 2018

      You Dad sounds like a real character! Funnily enough, it was always Pernod we thought about and occasionally drank in Canada before I came to France. As for baked beans, I often see Heinz brand in the imported foods section of the shops but never bother. The only time I enjoy them is with a full English when in the UK!

  7. phildange · August 9, 2018

    … in my family and friends’ homes .

    • MELewis · August 10, 2018

      Must be connoisseurs in our parts then! 😉

  8. Colin Bisset · August 10, 2018

    My favourite water, my favourite car and my favourite mustard. But I’m also made for Le Petit Marseillais Pur Savon liquid soap – I always manage to squeeze a few in my luggage, and don’t even care if they leak because I love the smell so much.

    • Colin Bisset · August 10, 2018

      Mad for, I mean, although made for works, too!

    • MELewis · August 12, 2018

      How nice to have something so basic and simple of quality to enjoy when you get home. I’ve gone off liquid soap lately in an effort to get back to basics (but no judgements as they do offer clear convenience advantages!). Even the cakes are nice though…😊

      • Colin Bisset · August 12, 2018

        Less than 4 euros and I’m happy…

  9. midihideaways · August 10, 2018

    Funny how brands have managed to convince the public of their superiority with their advertising. I try and be objective about quality and value for money with whatever I buy – sometimes the brands win, and sometimes not… 🙂

    • MELewis · August 13, 2018

      Yes, it’s a battle of brands vs plain and simple quality. My loyalty as a consumer is hard won and quickly lost….all it takes is one appalling experience to change perceptions.

      • midihideaways · August 14, 2018

        You’re so right there – an appalling experience can break years of trust. The big brands mostly know that, and try to live up to our expectations… 🙂

  10. acflory · August 11, 2018

    The only brand I’m familiar with happens to be the brand I buy here as well – Maille Dijon Mustard. I did try penny pinching once. The substitute was thrown out half full. Like you, and your Belle Mere, I’m picky with my brands because I can’t afford to waste money on things that will be wasted. The good stuff never is. 🙂

    • MELewis · August 12, 2018

      Oh I do agree. Would rather have a little of what I really enjoy than a lot of the cheaper stuff! ☺️

  11. Heide · August 22, 2018

    What a wonderful tour of your Frenchie “favorite things”! I’m a Badoit girl also. That’s not to say I would leave a café if they only had Perrier, but there really *is* a distinctive quality to the Badoit that I prefer. Ditto with the Verveine et Citron bath gel from Le Petit Marseillais, the Bonne Maman raspberry tartalettes, the Amora Sauce Bulgare … oh, the list goes on. They may be a bit more pricey than the store brands, but there’s something comforting about my familiar, beloved favorites — and all the more so because I can’t find most of them in the States. Anyway. You come up with the most fascinating post topics! Thank you for another great read.

    • MELewis · October 24, 2018

      Just saw this and realized I had not replied! Glad you enjoyed – it’s always a huge satisfaction when a post ‘hits the mark’. You clearly know your French brands. It’s funny how I searched for products from ‘home’ back in the day when I first came to France (what, no microwave popcorn?!!) and now my tastes have completely changed. I could not live without good quality Dijon, tisane and walnut oil. 🙂

      • Heide · October 24, 2018

        Isn’t it funny (and a huge blessing) how our tastes evolve and adapt? Though the very mention of “tisane” tells me you’re officially French. 😉

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