In the wake of the First World War, the port of Bordeaux was taking delivery of enormous quantities of grain that arrived from the Americas and mills in the area were unable to cater for local demands. Traders in wheat therefore clubbed together and funded the construction of this mill to the designs of the architects of the Paris-based Société d’Entreprise Meunière. The mill was completed in 1921 and was strategically positioned within easy reach both of the river and the railway line.
However, disaster struck and the plant was totally gutted by a massive fire. In order to make ends meet, the traders had to lean on the support of Grands Moulins de Paris (GMP), a milling company that had been founded in 1919 but whose roots can be traced back to the 12th century. The factory was rebuilt and completed in 1924, going on to trade as Grands Moulins de Bordeaux.
In the 1950s, the mill became part of the Vilgrain group ahead of becoming a bona fide unit of Grands Moulins de Paris in 1970. In 1989, GMP became part of the Bouygues group, nine years later was taken over by a group of investors including the insurance company AXA, then in 2001 was taken over by NutriXo, a conglomerate made up of GMP itself, Euromill Nord, Grands Moulins Storione and some of the branches of the catering specialists Délifrance. NutriXo’s shareholding is split between employees and cooperative cereal production organisations. NutriXo is now part of food giants the Siclaé group.
In many ways, not much has changed at the minoterie since the 1920s: wheat goes in and flour comes out. Most of the wheat now comes from the Poitou-Charentes region or from the outskirts of greater Paris, and in some cases from the Marne department in north-eastern France. Rather than by boat though, much of the wheat arrives by train, with the mill boasting its own railway siding just off the main track. A single train can deliver the equivalent of 50 lorries’ worth of cereal.
Around half of the resulting flour is delivered by road to the end-users: bakers, biscuit makers and shops. It is used to manufacture types of baguette which are branded “Campaillette”, “Campaillou” and “Sarmentine”. It is also used for pastries with customers as far afield as Barcelona and Lisbon. And if you’ve ever bought a packet of Mikado biscuits, as manufactured by LU, this is where the wheat became flour. The other half of the mill’s output is shipped from the docks in Bassens, a little further downstream, to distributors in northern Africa and in France’s overseas departments and territories.
The increasingly automated mill operates constantly, grinding an average of 660 tons of wheat each day while up to 17,500 tons of grain can be stored at any one time. Pneumatic technology is used to transport the flour around the mill; it is propelled through pipes by compressed air. As well as boasting state-of-the-art laboratories to monitor and analyse output, the mill also has its own research laboratory aimed at conceiving new mixtures of flour and a training centre where bakers are taught about manufacturing and sales techniques.
The outside appearance of the mill is a far cry though from these modern amentities and, if anything, retains a timeless aura reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Could the owners of GMP similarly be talked into distributing their own golden tickets for a behind-the-scenes tour?...
- Find it: 38, quai de Brazza, Bordeaux
- The Grands Moulins de Paris website features further information, as does the NutriXo website. In 2009, Invisible Paris went for a stroll near the Grands Moulins de Paris mill at the Port de Paris in Gennevilliers.