Roscoff marine biology station - Photo: © Fred Tanneau

A dive into the natural ecosystem

The region is home to a 2,730km coastline and many companies have tapped into the research and innovation opportunities presented by its ecosystem.

Brittany’s cosmetics industry generates EUR 1.8 billion in sales and provides some 6,000 jobs, according to figures from a study carried out by technology transfer centre CBB Capbiotek. However, the cosmetics giant Yves Rocher, which is firmly established in the region and produces 85% of its cosmetics here, accounts for the lion’s share of sales and jobs. Excluding Yves Rocher, Brittany’s cosmetics industry generates EUR 400 million in sales and provides work for some 2,600-2,700 people, the study found.

167 Breton groups operate in the cosmetics industry, about half of which record more than 50% of their sales in cosmetics. Of these, half again work in finished products; a quarter in ingredients and raw materials; and another quarter in service, tests, formulation and packaging, the study identified. Of the 167 companies, 61% export internationally, principally to Europe, North America and Asia. The average export rate within these companies is 40%.

A hub for marine cosmetics

Brittany is home to some 700 species of seaweed. 30% of the companies work in marine cosmetics, half of which are based in Finistère. These businesses account for total sales of EUR 150 million and around 730 jobs.

The region boasts three marine biology stations (Concarneau, Dinard and Roscoff) and close to 40 innovation centres and platforms. The Station Biologique de Roscoff is involved in the GENIALG project which aims to promote marine cultures and their use in the cosmetics field. This centre also recently teamed up with researchers from the Biologie Intégrative des Modèles Marins and the Laboratoire des Sciences de l’Environnement Marin to conduct research on brown algae. The result of the study was a patent which claims to aid the production of phlorotannins (a type of tannins found in brown algae), which are used as natural extracts by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Key cosmetics players

Besides Yves Rocher, Brittany is also home to several key players in the cosmetic field, which has seen particularly strong growth over the last 20 years or so.

Based in Dirinon and Relecq-Kerhuon, Technature specializes in the treatment of alginate and is a global leader in the production of masks. The company generates sales of EUR 20 million, 50% of which comes from outside France. R&D represents 10% of its workforce.

Laboratoires Gilbert makes gels, creams oils and balms for its Algotherm range; as well as aromatherapy products, liquid soaps and oleo limestone baby milk for its Laboratories Gilbert arm. The group’s Plouédern production unit is specialized in the biotechnological exploitation of algae and in marine cosmetics and employs 100 people.

Lessonia, which was founded in 2002, works with global cosmetics brands such as L’Oréal, for whom it has developed a new shampoo composed of flower petals. Lessonia is present in 75 countries.

Agrimer - Bretagne Cosmétique Marins is a key player in the algae sector, in which it claims to be the only firm to cover the entire production chain (from the collection of algae to the finished product). 75% of its sales come from export. According to the group’s president André Prigent, Agrimer has the capacity to produce 10,000 tonnes of algae per year.

A new wave of small Breton brands

As well as the market leader Yves Rocher and the more established brands, there is also space for smaller companies to break into the market. 50% of the firms in the region employ less than ten people (a figure which is closer to 60% in Finistère). These companies generate on average some EUR 650,000 in revenues. They invest on average 14 to 15% of their sales in R&D.

One such small company is Plouineau-based Formaderm, which was founded in 2002 and deals in phytotherapy (gels with plant-based extracts) and aromatherapy (essential oils). It employs ten people and generates EUR 850,000 in revenues.

Quimper based Yslab, which was founded in 2000 and has 13 employees, offers finished products based on marine biotechnology. Among its offering is a toothpaste made with algae extract. Yslab is present in Russia, China, the Middle East and Europe. 90% of its revenues comes from export.

A land of possibilities

The marine cosmetics sector has truly evolved,” comments André Prigent, President of Agrimer-Bretagne Cosmétiques Marins.

Twenty years ago, not many people were interested in cosmetic biotechnology. Today it’s become central. At the last in-cosmetics trade show it was one of the areas at the heart of the innovations,” adds Roland Conanec of CBB Capbiotek.

With a combination of small and medium-sized companies anchoring themselves on Brittany’s marine cosmetic map, it seems clear that this landscape is no longer just about Yves Rocher.