Everyone is familiar with Bordeaux wine, and when in the city it is customary to sample local delicacies such as the ubiquitous...

Cacolac: the (other) beverage from Bordeaux

Everyone is familiar with Bordeaux wine, and when in the city it is customary to sample local delicacies such as the ubiquitous canelé, but one beverage which is uniquely Bordelais is the chocolate milk drink Cacolac.

The Cacolac story goes back to 1928 and the founding, by the local Lanneluc and Lauseig families, of the Laiterie de la Benauge dairy on the right bank of the Garonne. In 1952, the son of one of the families, Robert Lauseig, travelled to the Netherlands and came across flavoured milk beverages. Upon his return he was inspired to add cocoa (ample amounts of stored cocoa beans were readily available at Bordeaux docks) and sugar to milk before sterilising the mixture. Cacolac was born and was commercially launched in 1954, selling mainly in surrounding towns and villages from the backs of vans.

In the late 1960s, with the drink gaining popularity and Cacolac being distributed to cafés and bars throughout France, the dairy changed its name to la Société Fermière des Produits Cacolac. From the 1970s onwards, the drink was also available in supermarkets (and today 70% of production is sold in shops). By the 1980s it had become a firm favourite with children in France as a snack-time treat and, in the mid 1990s, Cacolac's profile was given a further unexpected boost by the satirical puppet show Les Guignols de l’Info on TV channel Canal+, where the latex version of footballer Jean-Pierre Papin would regularly extol the virtues of the drink
A cow which is permanently stationed outside the Cacolac factory harks back to early Cacolac advertising campaigns. Note the decorative Cacolac can horn-rings...

After a short-lived partnership with Danone, Cacolac was taken over by the industrial holding Trixaim. The majority shareholders Didier Giroux and Dominique Rault looked to take the company to new levels as they believe it was delivering at just 40% of its full potential. But in 2015 the company changed hands again, management duties being taken over by majority shareholder Christian Maviel, the son of Bernard Maviel who had chaired the company until 2011.

The precise recipe of Cacolac has not changed one iota since 1954 and it is claimed that the secret lies in the choice of its raw ingredients coupled with the way the cocoa and milk are blended, and the sterilisation methods which are applied. What has changed though is the Cacolac production facility itself (pictured above) which, since 2000, has been based in Léognan, 13 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux, a location chosen apparently because it offers easy access to abundant sources of the high-quality groundwater necessary for the Cacolac manufacturing and sterilisation process. The plant now employs a 46-strong workforce and produces 150,000 of the distinctive brown bottles and cans each year. 

Surprisingly, the 15,000m² site of the former Cacolac plant in the Bastide district, the tall sterilisation tower of which was long a familiar sight for the locals, has been bare since the demolition of the dairy’s buildings in 2003. 


The land, now under the ownership of the greater Bordeaux council (Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux), was originally earmarked for a new fire station, but surveys have shown the land is subject to flooding, so any form of new construction has been vetoed. There is talk of a scenic park being created but, in the meantime, all that remains is an ageing gate, a padlocked fence and what appears to be the decapitated former front walls and bricked-up entrances of neighbouring residential buildings, where surviving clues include long-since disused letterboxes and foot-rails for visitors to scrape dirt off their shoes.
  
It will be interesting to see what becomes of the wasteland in the coming years. In the meantime, join me in raising a glass/bottle to Cacolac, the Bordeaux beverage which doesn’t have to be enjoyed in moderation!


8 comments:

  1. I would join you in raising a glass, but it's true that it is not as easy to find as it should be. Any idea where the name came from originally? The Caco part is obviously self-explanatory, but the lac part is a bit odd.

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  2. Interesting post. I am sure I would love this drink, I am a chocoholic! Diane

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  3. Yes, I must say it was an interesting subject to, a-hem, "research"!

    The "lac" bit of the name is, I reckon, in reference to its milkiness, c.f. "boisson lactée" and "voie lactée" (milky way, as in the galaxy, not the chocolate bar). The origin of the adjective "lacté" can, according to my notes here, be traced back to the latin "lacteus", which means "milky". Always reassuring to know there's a bit of Latin in the name of a soft drink!

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  4. I have been wondering about Cacolac since finding an old advertising sign in Brittany. Thank you for satisfying my curiosity!

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    1. My pleasure, glad to have been able to help! Make sure you try some one of these days!...

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  5. Interesting article and a great drink that I have fond memories of drinking in France whilst on holiday as a child. Finally after a lot of searching I've found it for sale here in the UK at frenchclick.co.uk but it is very pricey, such a shame the distribution isn't wider here!

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    1. Wasn't aware of that website but good to see that they distribute Cacolac! Even in France it's relatively expensive so I'm not surprised at the hefty pricetag.

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