Known for its glittering pink stone

Brittany granite on the rebound from rocky patch

GMT 15:46 2015 Wednesday ,27 May

Arab Today, arab today Brittany granite on the rebound from rocky patch

Foreign companies chipping away at their revenue
Ploumanach - Arab Today

With foreign companies chipping away at their revenue, granite quarries in the Brittany region of France are trying to fight back by obtaining a protected geographical label, similar to the one on many French wines.

The Hotel de Ville in Paris, the European Parliament in Brussels, and the Bank of China in Hong Kong all get their granite from Brittany, known for its glittering pink stone.

Because Breton granite is in demand, particularly the pink variety, granite from countries like China is sometimes cheekily passed off as Breton.

But on the streets of France it's bona fide Chinese granite that is rattling local producers, with its competitive pricing -- sometimes 30 percent lower than the French alternative -- making it the choice of many contractors bidding for government tenders.

"In a bid, one cannot say 'I would like Breton granite'. That's illegal. So many Breton towns find themselves with Chinese granite in their streets," Odile Guerin, deputy mayor of Trebeurden, a seaside town on Brittany's Pink Granite Coast, said.

Gone are the glory days of the Breton granite industry, when granite was extensively used in homes and stone walls, giving work to thousands of people.

Nowadays it provides work for "about 700 to 800 for a hundred companies", mainly in tombstones and in public works, according to Christian Corlay, secretary general of the regional union for quarries and construction materials.

From 108.6 million euros ($123 million) in 2002, the sector's revenues fell to 67 million euros in 2013, of which 7 million euros was made up of exports. Imports have also waned, including from China.

- 'We only keep the best' -

To safeguard their production Brittany quarries have set about protecting their product.

One way to do that is with the kind of certification used to certify gastronomic specialities.

Champagne, for example, can only be labelled as such if the bubbles come from the northeastern Champagne region.

After years of administrative procedures, Breton granite has also received protected origin status.

The label, which has yet to take effect, will apply to "granite exclusively extracted and transformed in Brittany", says Corlay, who looks forward to being able to "authenticate the product and reassure the consumer, whether public or private".

Brittany producers say their granite is made of much tougher stuff than that produced in China.

"Here, we only keep the best. With a great rock, we can have 50 percent losses," said Jean-Pierre Chesnel, former head of the quarry in Ploumanac'h. "The shallow rock is much softer, so we often remove it to go deeper."

Apart from the regional label, Brittany companies are looking for other ways to differentiate themselves from foreign competitors.

"For example, if we introduce environmental criteria like a carbon footprint, Chinese granite becomes much less attractive financially," said Guerin.

Despite the hard times, Corlay says the outlook for Brittany granite is rosy.

"Natural stone still has a future," he said.
Source: AFP


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