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Back to basics: wood-fired oven shields French baker from soaring energy costs

By Stephane Mahe

Challans, FRANCE (Reuters) - Traditional wood-fired bread-making is helping shield one French baker from sky-rocketing energy costs.

Franck Burgaud, who owns the only such bakery in the town of Challans, in western France, had not anticipated the current state of things when he opened 23 years ago.

"We chose this way of cooking bread for its authenticity," he said. "It's about going back to the roots and work on the bread as best as possible."

Thanks to his preference for wood, the baker, who works with his wife and daughter, has been saving big on energy bills.

While many of his colleagues are teetering on the brink of financial collapse, Burgaud says the cost of firewood has only risen by 3 to 5% over the past year.

"This is not even remotely close to the electricity prices and, in case of power outage, a wood-fired oven will always work," he told Reuters.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday urged power suppliers to do more to help the country's small and medium-sized businesses cope with rising power costs.

He also said the state would write to France's 33,000 bakers to detail the existing and future help they can expect, while announcing bakery power contracts could now be reviewed on a "case by case" basis depending on each baker's situation.

But even as his energy source has shielded him from significant costs, Franck Burgaud still feels the impact the war in Ukraine has on his business.

"(Prices for) everything have risen up to 100%. Eggs cost almost twice as much, butters are up by 50%, flour has risen a lot as well," he said.

"On the long term, we're in the dark. It is truly worrisome."

(Writing by Manuel Ausloos; Editing by William Maclean)