Nicolas Fouchère, President of Sicobel

Nicolas Fouchère, President of Sicobel

Premium Beauty News - The Laboratoire Sicobel is known for its natural dermo-cosmetic brands. You were one of the pioneers in this segment?

Nicolas Fouchère - That’s right. The Laboratoire Sicobel, which now has more than 60 years of existence, has made a name for itself thanks to its natural actives promoting skin cell regeneration. Placentor, the historic brand of the laboratory was one of the pioneers in “phytodermatology”

When I took over the company in 1996, I chose to reinforce this positioning, combining natural actives and dermo-cosmetic products. We worked all our formulas to make them more natural while ensuring that they remained effective.

Premium Beauty News - This is the time when you embarked on the bio adventure?

Nicolas Fouchère - We realized that we had trouble developing the reformulation work we had undertaken with Placentor.

In France, the emerging organic trend seemed to be a strong element of differentiation. And the Laboratoire Sicobel became a founding member of the Cosmébio Association. The organic approach allowed for the implementation of precise specifications, controlled by certification bodies independent from manufacturers and brands.

In 2003, we launched the BcomBio brand with an in-house team, because at the time outside expertise in this area was scarce. And we stayed in our field: Dermo-cosmetics. BcomBio was the first biological brand to enter pharmacies. At first, we had to face some scepticism from our interlocutors. But the bio trend helped us and big pharmacies, eager to respond to the competition from health & beauty stores began to really take an interest in our products and support them.

Today, the Laboratoire Sicobel manages five brands. Two brands with a strong natural connotation but not bio certified: Placentor – our historic brand, and Edenens, which targets young women. And three organic brands: BcomBio, BcomBio Homme, BBcomBio our organic dermo cosmetic brand for babies.

Premium Beauty News - Going organic is therefore compatible with a dermo-cosmetic positioning for which the need for efficiency is particularly high?

Nicolas Fouchère - We clearly epitomize this. Dermo-cosmetics is an integral part of Sicobel’s DNA. In our case, they are self-prescribed dermo-cosmetics. From the beginning we were careful to make sure that our products were efficient and we had them tested. This was not always easy because at the very beginning the number of ingredients available was very limited. The efficiency goal we had set ourselves with forced us to enter into a continuous reformulation process to take advantage of new ingredients that kept appearing on the market. I can say that for the past 3 or 4 years we have managed to get with our organic products the same results as with conventional dermo-cosmetic products.

Premium Beauty News - While remaining competitive in terms of prices?

Nicolas Fouchère - There is no significant price difference between BcomBio and conventional dermo-cosmetic brands. Again this was one of our goals and it called for much efforts. Indeed, organic formulas are generally more expensive, to which must be added the certification cost. In addition, the life cycle of a bio product is often very short. As new molecules are made available to us at a very fast pace, we reformulate very often in order to remain at the forefront of innovation. This ongoing reformulation process, very characteristic of the bio in its early stages, is still very true today. In a nutshell, we must make efforts on our margins.

Premium Beauty News - Hence the organic positioning is particularly delicate. What is your insight on the true potential of this market?

Nicolas Fouchère - Since 2011 the growth in sales of organic cosmetics has slowed down. We went from a double-digit very strong growth, to a much more moderate growth. In such a context, there must therefore be a feeling of disappointment from some major groups who had made significant efforts to develop themselves on the market.

Currently, it is estimated that the organic market accounts for between 3.5 and 4% of the French market. There has been a mushrooming of brands until the 2010s but a slowdown in sales as of 2011 led distributors to streamline their offer and there was a lot of product delisting.

In our case, we always thought claiming being bio was not enough to convince consumers. This is even truer on the dermo-cosmetic market where we work in the long term, and where credibility is required on every front.

Like all the other players, we suffered from the slowdown on the market of organic cosmetics in 2011. But we resisted quite well afterwards particularly thanks to the development of cardboard boxes for our products. Initially, we had decided not to use secondary packaging, but their introduction early 2012 allowed us to better express the uniqueness of our brand.

Premium Beauty News - And how do you see the future?

Nicolas Fouchère - We will first continue our efforts, to renew our ranges, in reformulation and in the research of new actives, with the aim to continue to offer products at the best level. Then our second axis of development is the internationalization of our brands. Currently Placentor (10% of our export turnover) is the only one of our brands to be truly present outside France, even though BcomBio was launched in Italy, Belgium and Russia.

In parallel, we continue our contract manufacturing business which represents 10% of our turnover and which enables us to constantly confront ourselves to new issues.

Premium Beauty News - What is the impact of regulatory changes underway, particularly the forthcoming entry into force of the new European Regulation on cosmetics?

Nicolas Fouchère - This is especially heavy for SMEs that must be at the same level as large groups, yet without having the same means. This represents of course an additional cost to our profitability.