French Fancies: LU

In my recent post about France’s oldest business, I referenced the family’s connection to LU, formerly Lefèvre-Utile, a French biscuit brand emblematic of the city of Nantes which, thanks to the importance of its port, had long been home to artisanal and then industrial biscuit factories whose products were originally intended for sailors.

Petit Beurre is the name of the flagship product of the LU brand, alongside Boudoir, Champagne, Petit Four, Prince de LU, Pim’s, Paille d’or, Granola, Barquette, Neapolitan, etc.

LU | Biscuits et gâteaux | Ma vie en couleurs

How it all began


In 1846 Jean-Romain Lefèvre moved from Varennes-en-Argonne to Nantes to take over a pastry shop at No. 5 rue Boileau in a building belonging to the shipowner Thomas Dobrée. On the advice of his wife Pauline-Isabelle Utile, originally from Marle in the Aisne, he named the business Fabrique de biscuits de Reims et de candies secs where he sold his own products and the famous Huntley & Palmers English biscuit.

Affiche vintage NANTES "La Tour LU" - Marcel Travel Poster Taille 30 x 40 cm

Antoine Lefèvre, Jean-Romain’s brother, had settled in Nancy in 1840 to found another biscuit-confectionery company called Lefèvre-Denise, which is still operating under the name Lefèvre-Lemoine. On his return from military service, Jean-Romain trained with his brother Antoine before moving to Nantes to shake up its biscuit production.

The original Nantes premises become too cramped so the couple bought an annex to the shop, with family funds, next door at No. 7 rue Boileau in 1854. The expanded shop was large with high ceilings and wall panelling which made it look very elegant and a fitting surround for the range of products sold from the glass display cabinets and placed into packaging.

Patrimonia : LU

In 1882, their third son Louis, made a trip to England in order to learn about English biscuits and their method of manufacture. He then took over the family business at the age of 24, after the death of his father, and decided to industrialise production. He settled on the quays, on the banks of the Loire, in 1885, where he had a 2,000 m2 (20,000 sq ft) high-tech biscuit factory built on Quai Baco. He employed 130 workers who produced three tons of biscuits a day.

LU Véritable petit beurre, emballage refermable 24 biscuits 200g pas cher -

In 1886 he created the famous Petit Beurre, which became the company’s reference product. This square biscuit with scalloped edges is mass-produced using an imprint that Louis created with the help of an English company T. & T. Vicars. This imprint, which represents a calendar (52 teeth for the 52 weeks, 4 large wedges for the 4 seasons, 24 holes for the 24 hours, 7 cm size for the 7 days of the week) .

On 1 February 1887, Louis Lefèvre-Utile and his brother-in-law, Ernest Lefièvre, joined forces to create the LU company. Ernest Lefièvre took care of the commercial management of the company while Louis Lefèvre-Utile oversaw its production. Ernest opened a depot in Paris, at 5 rue du Renard, to ensure a reliable distribution network in the capital.

The Nantes factory was devastated by fire in May 1888 but only 15 days later production resumed using the latest technology made from non-flammable . materials such as steel.

Affiche Lu neuf et occasion - Achat pas cher | Rakuten

The end of the century is marked by the creation of a number of new products, particularly for major events.  “Neva, the Russian biscuit” was created for the visit of Tsar Alexander III to Paris in 1892. Similarly, the “ Iceberg wafer” celebrated the second expedition to Antarctica by oceanographer Jean-Baptiste Charcot in 1908. Finally, a series of “Aviation” vignettes paid tribute to the crossing of the English Channel by Louis Blériot in 1909.

1846 1957 27.06.20 > 03.01.21

It was also at this time that the company abandoned bulk sales and began packaging its products in tin boxes which had the advantage of ensuring a longer shelf life and offered an ideal medium for advertising.

Increased production (a further 200 tons) demanded expansion and the company acquired a number of nearby facilities so by 1897, the company occupied two hectares with 38 kilns including 22 large continuous kilns.

The LU company now employed around 2,000 employees. Louis Lefèvre-Utile had always wanted his company to remain a family business but one of innovation and progress. The employees participated in the profits of the company – an unusual arrangement in those times. Plus, the company provided each employee with health cover, sick pay and a pension fund.

Post-WWI, after the factory had been requisitioned, production resumed but quickly resume at much lower yields due to supply chain issues and the lack of manpower. This difficult situation persisted until the end of the 1920s at which point the company was standing still due to lack of investment and stagnant sales.

In the 1930s, Louis’ son, Michel Lefèvre-Utile, set up a network of exclusive representatives. Post WWII, in the 1950s, Michel’s son, Patrick Lefèvre-Utile, launched continuous production lines for the various biscuits, and created the LU logo identifying and unifying the brand.

In 1960, the LU brand reduced the number of its products from two hundred to sixty and then to fifteen. At the same time, packaging becomes automated and the tin box is replaced by aluminium foil. In order to increase distribution internationally, from 1968 LU embarked on a series of strategic alliances, notably with Brun.

This group of companies was taken over several times, by Générale Biscuit then by BSN, which became Danone. In 2007, the American group Kraft Foods bought LU from the Danone group. Since 2012, following a split from the Kraft Foods group, the LU brand has been owned by the American multinational Mondelez International.

Artistic Heritage

Jean-Romain Lefèvre and his wife used advertising very early on, particularly on the packaging of their products. They had the idea of associating their names with a figurine of Fame, an allegorical deity represented by a winged woman mouthing a trumpet. This symbol adorned all LU products until 1943.

Plaque émaillée LU Lefevre Utile ronde | Au temps qui passe

His successor, Louis Lefèvre-Utile, also quickly understood the importance of promotion for his products. He officially registered the shape of Renommée and its use on the boxes of LU products in 1895. He also commissioned well-known artists (Alfons Mucha, Firmin Bouisset, Leonetto Cappiello, Luigi Loi, Folon, Desclozeaux, Raymond Savignac) to promote his products and his brand resulting in a body of work that today constitutes a real artistic heritage.

Sold Price: Original Advertising Poster Lu Biscuits Firmin Bouisset - August 6, 0120 3:00 PM BST

Louis also sought endorsements from “celebrities” such as Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Feydeau, François Coppée and Anatole France who were photographed inset on painted cards praising the biscuits.

The LU biscuit history exhibition in Nantes, France

The tin boxes housing the products were also works of art with some in the shape of a trunk, the shape of the Nantes tramway or even in the shape of a picnic basket.

In September 1999, the “LU collection” was transferred to the nearby Goulaine castle,It bringing together nearly 600 works by renowned artists, posters, advertising objects and furniture. Sadly, Mondelez decided to close this exhibition in 2019.

All images courtesy of LU


25 Comments on “French Fancies: LU

  1. Love those LU cookies too bad the Château de Goulaine which we have visited several times change owners and the museum left they will do other things there now eventually. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We use the petit beurre biscuits to make the famous Flemish petit beurre cake. It’s no-bake cake, made of layers of biscuits dipped in coffee, with a butter/sugar mix in between. Chocolate sprinkles on top.

    Liked by 1 person

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