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Companies & industry

“Eco-design is now a standard practice,” A. Hubin, Somater

Somater et Associés is a family-owned company specialised in the production of primary packaging. The group is formed of 5 companies, and 9 industrial units and employs 640 staff with a turnover of about EUR 95 million in 2008. Somater produces about 2 billion packaging units a year using 4 different technologies: injection, blown film extrusion, air-blown injection and thermo-moulding. The health and beauty sector accounts for 85% of the group’s business.

Premium Beauty News talked to Alix Hubin, CEO of the group and former president of CESMP (the French plastic packaging and film industry trade body).

Premium Beauty News - What are the main assets of Somater?

Alix Hubin - The Somater Group is a renowned operator on various markets, in particular for offset decorated rigid tubes for pharmaceuticals, high-end air-blown injected cosmetic bottles with optimised and high-tech decoration, mascaras that we produce with a high productivity technology, blown extruded or co-extruded bottles, decorated or not, with automated packaging processes in order to reduce handling.

With the purchase of the former Polyflex plant, which became Plastuni Normandie, Somater strengthened its already strong reputation as an air-blown plastic transformer. There was a very good know-how in this factory, it just needed to be developed through new investments, and that’s exactly what we did.

Our investments account for 8% of the group’s turnover. For the Plastuni Normandie factory the rate reached 10%. Indeed, we purchased new air-blown injection machines, we reorganised and modernised the serigraphy equipment, and invested in new machines for improving the way we pack our products and reducing transportation costs.

Premium Beauty News - What is the outcome of 2008 for your company?

Alix Hubin - 2008 was a good year for the entire group. Thanks to our reactivity and our rapid decision making process, we are able to accompany our customers on many projects, even those requiring heavy investments. We recently participated in the launch of prestigious ranges, such as the line Démaq, Lancôme, Clarins’ new Lift Minceur or Bourjois’ new So Delicate gloss; and the new Efferalgan 1g with an easy opening system for which our customer, Bristol Myers Squibb got a Pharmapack in January 2009.

All these launches were the occasion of advanced technological innovations. For instance, in order to make the Lancôme bottles, we invested in high-tech robotised tools. The decoration on Clarins and Bourjois bottles was only possible through special machines.

Our motto has always been that when a company stops investing is a company that is just about to shut down. Thus we never hesitated to support our customers and to follow them when they needed, in particular to invest in the manufacture of their next launches.

Premium Beauty News - And what is your vision for 2009?

Alix Hubin - 2009 is likely to be a difficult year. The dramatic stock clearing operated by our customers, mainly in high end segment, is directly transformed into postponed orders. It is very difficult to know whether these delays are linked to a strong decrease of consumption or to a new form of supply-chain management. The shortening of payment delays may also contribute to this situation. Small mass retailers and beauty institute might have reconsidered their purchasing policy in view of the new French “law for the modernization of the economy”. There’s a real question regarding the possible impact of this law on the cash flow of the smallest retailers and on their purchasing policy.

To date, beauty products in the mass market channel appear to be least affected.

The quantity of calls for tenders remains high. There is a real will to launch new products to enhance the demand. I consider it is a sign that the industry is still very active and wants to prevent any risk of recession.

As far as we are concern, our financial strength allows us to resist to the current recession. So far, I remain careful and not too worry for 2009. If necessary, we’ll not hesitate to take any necessary measures if we see that orders do not come back while our customers should have entirely cleared their stocks.

2009 will be a challenging year in the packaging industry, which is used to that. The new factor is that it will also be a challenging year for beauty operators.

Premium Beauty News - Is there a risk that environmental concerns do not survive difficult economic times?

Alix Hubin – I consider as a very positive sign the fact that despite “the crisis, environmental concerns still top the agenda. A growing number of calls for tenders require using recycled materials, even though these materials are not always the best option from a cost efficiency viewpoint.

As far as we are concerned, we integrate eco-design practices on a routine basis in our work and our customers do really appreciate that.

Eco-design is now a standard practice and there is no possibility to step back, whatever the economic context is. It is a real source of improvement, with demonstrated technical and economical impacts.

Somater has initiated the process to be ISO 14001 certified. We are combining eco-manufacturing with the eco-design, through massive investments in low-consumption electrical machines, by making a wide use of frequency modulation to adapt consumption to the needs, and by using free-cooling for the production of iced water.

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Interview by Jean-Yves Bourgeois

© 2009 - Premium Beauty News -
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