If squalene derived from shark liver has almost disappeared from cosmetic formulas, it remains a significant emollient in product compositions. Initially created to provide the industry with this basic ingredient, Sophim soon chose olive, a raw material native of the Mediterranean basin which offers a plant-derived squalene with specificities identical to that of animal origin.
“We started in 1996, but the demand started regularly increasing only about ten years later. Olive squalene has really taken off since then,” says CEO Alexis Margnat.
A natural, circular alternative
In 2005, the company made considerable investments to get the production capacities necessary to meet market needs. Later, in 2014, they purchased a plant in Almeria, Spain, to get closer to raw materials.
“We work with waste from the olive oil industry. These by-products derived from olive oil refinement are fatty acids which contain 5% to 10% of squalene,” explains Alexis Margnat.
The Spanish site collects the squalene retrieved from these by-products, and then sends it to France for it to be purified and transformed into squalane. The remainder is also transformed into biodiesel in Spain.
“We valorize the whole raw material. The non-squalene fraction is transformed: 95% of our by-products are mainly valorized into biodiesel we sell to the oil industry. It is a real circular economy,” adds the CEO.
A growing market driven by Asia
Thanks to both a unique industrial capacity and full integration of the transformation process for a pure, plant-derived, Cosmos-approved ingredient, Sophim has become a major player on the cosmetics market, which is increasingly turned to naturalness. Today, the company boasts almost half the market shares of plant-derived squalane.
“80% of our products are exported, while 20% are sold in France. Europe accounts for 40% of our sales – the rest goes to Asia, the area with the strongest growth for several years, in particular in Japan, China, and Korea,” says Alexis Margnat.
Although it was affected by the slowdown due to the different lockdown periods in 2020, the company chose to continue to operate. And they were right to: they ended the year with a better turnover than in 2019 and achieved a 30% growth during the first quarter 2021.
“We have observed a very strong recovery in France and on the European market,” says Alexis Margnat, who is considering diversifying activities in 2021 to adapt to new markets.