Premium Beauty News - You launched a major transformation plan in 2019. Could you tell us a bit more?

Éric Ducournau - First, we put an emphasis on what has helped the Pierre Fabre Group stand out since it was founded: the association of Medicine and Naturalness. This positioning is based on our complementary specializations in Life Sciences and Nature: cell biology, biotechnologies, botany, and biodiversity.

To highlight our positioning, we invested in three priority areas: oncology, dermatology, and dermocosmetics. We are now the only company in the world to offer solutions to prevent skin cancers, treat them, and also treat their side effects. For example, Eau Thermale Avène offers health cures for women who had chemotherapy as well as replenishing skincare products free from any preservatives, thanks to Sterile Cosmetics.

Our transformation plan includes another key part: digitalization, which is implemented in all the company’s functions. In 2020, we doubled the share of e-retail in our sales and created a data centre of excellence aimed to support all trades, from R&D to marketing.

Premium Beauty News - Why did you sell Galénic to Yatsen and Elancyl to Cantabria?

Éric Ducournau - These are two very beautiful, highly innovative brands on their respective markets, but they no longer corresponded to our strategic positioning combining Medicine and Naturalness. Galénic is a high-end face care brand and Elancyl is specialized in slimming products. We wanted to invest in brands that follow dermatologists’ recommendations and mainly target damaged or weakened skins, like Eau Thermale Avène, Ducray, and A-Derma, as well as in botany-oriented brands, such as Klorane and René Furterer.

Premium Beauty News - Are there synergies between your medical and dermocosmetics businesses?

Éric Ducournau - That is actually why we are so strong on the global beauty market! What other cosmetics company can boast having an R&D centre with researchers in oncology, dermatology, and cosmetology? We have a campus in Toulouse, in the south of France, with over 600 Pierre Fabre employees working near basic research laboratories, biotech companies, and hospital doctors.

Extraordinary innovation stories emerge from this closeness between researchers from different backgrounds. For example, this year, Avène will launch a sunscreen with a new UV filter named Triasorb. This filter is derived from molecules discovered and patented by a Pierre Fabre medical research team as part of a programme against migraine. The patent registered by our team mentioned a potential for molecule sun protection, which gave another team the idea to focus on this anti-UV performance and led to the discovery of Triasorb. In 2018, it was added to the very short list of UV filters authorized in Europe.

Premium Beauty News - The microbiome is also a key issue for the group.

Éric Ducournau - Indeed, we are pioneers in understanding the skin microbiome in atopic dermatitis. Almost half of our clients at the Avène spa resort suffer from it, so it is a sort of research centre unique in the world: our researchers work on the observations made to pursue a major research programme called “skin microbiology and atopic dermatitis”. Their work led to several publications in international journals and our teams developed the first non-invasive method for analyzing the skin microbiome. It helped us set up a collection of microorganisms isolated from both healthy and pathological skins in order to analyze and better understand the skin disorders related to atopic dermatitis, and develop skincare that restores bacterial diversity: Avène’s Xéracalm skincare range is based on an active extracted from bacteria found in the unique microflora of thermal water. Our pharmacological work shows that these bacteria boost the production of antimicrobial peptides which defend the skin against pathogenic bacteria.

Premium Beauty News - The Pierre Fabre Group was a trail-blazer with the invention of Sterile Cosmetics, a patented technology which avoids the use of preservatives in skincare products. Is there anything new with this?

Éric Ducournau - You are absolutely right to remind that Mr Pierre Fabre was a forerunner when, as early as the 1990s, he imagined the first system to make sterile skincare for pathological or weakened skins. At that time, these products were marketed in the form of single-use single doses. Since then, we have enhanced this technology, which became Sterile Cosmetics in 2009. Thanks to Sterile Cosmetics, we formulate products containing only actives essential for the skin, without any preservatives. They are sterilized during the manufacturing phase with a unique process, packed in sterile areas, and their sterility is guaranteed throughout the use phase. In 2020, we further improved the packing system with a very easy-to-use, fully watertight miniaturized pump. This innovation is featured in the new Tolérance Control face care range for highly sensitive skins developed by Eau Thermale Avène.

Premium Beauty News - How do you plan to grow in China?

Éric Ducournau - 2020 was marked by the boom of e-retail, which now represents over 60% of our dermocosmetics revenue. This digital acceleration helped our hair care brands René Furterer and Klorane settle more quickly than expected in China, a market they recently entered, alongside Eau Thermale Avène, which is already well-known there. In 2021, we will emphasize Avène’s medical positioning by working closely with our new strategic partner, the Beijing University Hospital – more precisely its national clinical research centre specialized in skin and immune diseases. In addition, we will develop our precision marketing and widen our presence on social media to attract new consumers.

In parallel, we have many projects in oncology. We sell oral chemotherapy for treating lung and breast cancer and we are about to launch clinical trials for a new targeted therapy for colorectal cancer, which we have already marketed in Europe. Plus, we will relaunch an innovative treatment for preventing breast cancer recurrence – we have just got exclusive rights from American biotech company PUMA. Beyond China, the whole Asia-Pacific region will benefit from our investments in oncology.

Premium Beauty News - What about CSR? What actions have you taken to reduce your environmental impact?

Éric Ducournau - Up until 2018, the group’s sustainability and naturalness programmes were followed up by several separate divisions. In 2019, we created a whole entity focused on this issue, the Green Mission Pierre Fabre, which works on our CSR policy as a whole and on natural active sourcing. Our commitments are in line with the Paris Agreement, which is aimed to limit the planet’s temperature increase to 2°C by the end of the century. To contribute to these efforts, we will reduce our CO2 emissions by 30% and use 25% of renewable energy by 2025. What’s more, we use over 400 plant extracts in the group, 80% of which will soon be derived from organic farming. As an example, Klorane has just launched a moisturizing face care range with organic cornflower grown by our agronomists in the Tarn region. The active is extracted with a solvent-free extrusion process using distilled water. The formula contains more than 95% of natural ingredients and the packaging is based on recyclable glass. It perfectly highlights our Conscious Care commitment, which consists in combining formulas free from controversial or unnecessary ingredients, scientific rigor, controlled sourcing chains, eco-design, and green chemistry.