Etienne Gruyez joined Stoelzle Glass Group in 2014, following 12 years working in the glass industry’s ‘tabletop’ sector in various positions and different countries (USA, UK, France, Spain and UAE). He is now CEO of the French plants – one for glass manufacturing and one for decoration. He is also in charge of the Perfumery & Cosmetics (P&C) Business Unit for the group across several plants, a role that allows him to overview the P&C sales team. “Some might say I control the top line and the bottom line” he comments, wryly. “I am happy about my international experience. I discovered different ways of working and I worked with people with different cultures that forced me to adapt constantly. I am proud of my work at Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie as I lead the way to the ‘rebirth’ of the factory with the support of our shareholder Dr Cornelius Grupp.”
Unlike the majority of glass manufacturers, which specialise in one product category such as P&C, spirits, pharmaceutical and consumer, Stoelzle Glass Group maintains a presence across several markets. “This brings a wealth of knowhow” states Mr Gruyez “and it allows us to share information as well as innovation across business units. Our customers are also very interested in this (versatility); we have many P&C customers asking for the latest trends in spirits, for example. We know that these two segments are closely related in decoration.”
How Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie France seeks to differentiate itself from other suppliers of perfumery and cosmetic packaging can be summarised in three letters, according to Mr Gruyez: ‘FAR’ – Flexibility, Agility and Reactivity.
“These qualities are what our customers are looking for as the market is changing very rapidly and they need suppliers who are able to follow their speed” he explains. “The glass industry can be perceived as heavy and slow but this is not our case. For example, we have developed techniques to be able to produce new glass prototypes/samples in four weeks (compared to a standard 12 weeks).”
Pandemic purchase habits
Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie France is positioned around 5th or 6th on the European glass market in the perfumery and cosmetics sector, according to Mr Gruyez. “Our customers are all of the famous perfume and cosmetics houses” he says.
The company focuses its production on perfume bottle and cosmetic jars, targeted to the prestige segment of the market. “Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie is well known for its capacity to produce high end products for the luxury market” Mr Gruyez attests. “Our customers are prestige customers across Europe and the USA. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the market was growing at a high pace, around 5%-6% for us. Then everything collapsed... the curfew; the closing of stores; the stoppage of the airline travel and its duty free shops deeply impacted our customers and therefore us.”
Stoelzle was forced to adapt in the face of the pandemic when companies that were considered ‘non-essential’ stopped working or drastically reduced their activity. “As we did not want to build stock, we decided to stop our operations and see where the market would take us” Mr Gruyez explains. “We knew that our customers had inventory that could cover their immediate needs. After two months of stoppage, at the end of the first confinement we resumed our operations at 50% of our capacity given the market conditions and then to 75% prior to our furnace rebuild. In September/October, we decided to advance our furnace rebuild to be better positioned for the market restart, which was scheduled – and still hoped – for early 2021."
“Today it is hard to know what the future holds for us as no one has visibility about the market conditions” he adds. “Overall, the cosmetic segment is performing better than perfumery. It is obvious that confinement across the globe has affected purchasing habits; people were going outside or to the office less frequently, therefore using less perfume. Yet, customers maintained their skin care regimes and therefore the usage of jars (continued).”
Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie currently has 328 employees and to address the skill shortage caused by a lack of glass schools/institutions to teach the art of glassmaking, the company has its own training/education centre, where it trains new employees and existing employees in the techniques and technologies employed at the plant.
The glass firm celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018; a memorable occasion for Mr Gruyez. “Very few companies have the privilege to reach 200 years” he notes. “It is an honour to be part of this history, even if it is a small step on a 200 year scale. It was a great moment for the entire staff as we shared many moments together. It was also the opportunity to open our doors to the public. People are always very interested to discover the magic of glass and our employees were very proud to display their knowledge. It was also a pleasure to share this with customers who have supported us all these years. They are a complete part of our history.”
The Stoelzle France SAS sales company was introduced in 2010, along with Stoelzle Glass USA Inc and Stoelzle Glass LLC. The French Masnières plant was acquired by Stoelzle Glass Group in 2013. Mr Gruyez describes the acquisition and subsequent development as a “complete overhaul” of a business that had languished from under-investment for decades.
“We invested in new quality equipment, new mould shop machines, new technologies” he recalls. “We also started to invest in innovation and sustainability projects. From 2015 to 2019, the group invested more than €15 million in capital expenditure.”
The Masnières perfumery and cosmetics business unit now accounts for more than 18% of Stoelzle Glass Group turnover. However “the group does not communicate on our performance” Mr Gruyez notes. “This is one of the advantages of working for a family-owned business.”
Stoelzle Glass Group has recently invested close to €20 million in building a new furnace, going from 70 to close to 115 tonnes and the addition of a fifth production line. “This will increase our production capacity by more than 32%” says Mr Gruyez. “People might think that this is an odd decision in the current market conditions but it is also a great opportunity to be ready when the market rebounds. This is the decision we took: To provide even more capacity and flexibility to our customers when the market will require it. The addition of a fifth line is a very positive message for our customers and of course for our employees.”
When it came to selecting partners to support the investment programme, Stoelzle Glass Group was mindful of factors such as expertise, quality, lead time and previous experience. Ultimately the chosen suppliers were German firm ZIPPE Industrieanlagen, responsible for the enlargement of the batch plant and a new cullet return system and Polish company Forglass, which commissioned, designed and erected the new furnace.
“We always look for the best possible partners in our projects and the one who can also provide new ideas/technologies in our industry” says Mr Gruyez. “As a family-owned business, we believe in long-term relationship and this is what we do as well with our suppliers.”
The company is also committed to taking measures to control energy, raw materials and other production costs. “There is a strong commitment (to do this) from the group and therefore from each of the plants” Mr Gruyez confirms. “At STM, we have worked on many aspects: The raw material, the glass production process, the choice of energy. It also encompasses the decoration process, as we know that many of our bottles include decoration. We are always looking at the total product and its impact and not just one step. There has been and there is a lot of interest in PCR (post-consumer recycled glass). It is a good initiative but it is not the only one and there are other initiatives in our industry with bigger impact than just the raw material.”
“Customers are showing more and more interest in sustainability topics” notes Mr Gruyez. “They are asking for more and more details.” The company sees this as a positive move and acted accordingly with the introduction of SimaPro, a tool that monitors sustainability performance data and ensures that a product’s CO2 impact is included on all quotations prepared by Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie in France, along with alternatives to help customers to select the most eco-responsible solution.
“The idea is to show our customers what are the benefits of such change in their product design and/or decoration techniques” Mr Gruyez explains. “With SimaPro, we are not just talking about CO2, we are talking about many more parameters. With this information, the customer can decide with greater knowledge.”
Collaborating for the long-term future of glass
Signing up with 19 other glass container producers to work on and fund FEVE’s ‘Furnace of the Future’ project to develop the world’s first large-scale hybrid oxy-fuel furnace to run on 80% renewable electricity was a similarly conscience-driven decision for Stoelzle.
“We know that glass producing is energy-intensive. Therefore, we all know that we need to work on reducing our environmental footprint” says Mr Gruyez. “Combining our efforts will only allow us to better share research and innovation about this topic. The industry as a whole wants to make a difference, as every industry."
“We are at the preliminary stage of this initiative; it is still too early to provide details” he continues. “What I can tell you already is that we are participating in the cost of R&D as (are) other participating members.”
Mr Gruyez is optimistic about the prospect of the project creating a long-term future for Europe’s glass packaging industry. “This can and will probably be our new future” he believes. “Glass has been around for centuries and will remain that way. We know the quality of glass and all of its characteristics and the advantage of its recyclability over and over again. Glass is the perfect material in today’s needs for safety, quality, aesthetics and recyclability.”
Membership of FEVE as well as domestic associations such as L’Institut du Verre is “essential in our business” Mr Gruyez maintains. “It gives us a sense of belonging to an industry and it gives all glass manufacturing companies a voice in front of governmental agencies, for example. It also helps to define standards among manufacturers, making it easier for our customers to understand and compare their options on the same basis. And of course, the associations help us to work together and generate opportunities that would have been almost impossible to start if we were just a couple of companies together."
Corporate social responsibility
Stoelzle places great importance on its recycling responsibilities. It is an area of “very high concern for us to work on” attests Mr Gruyez. “Yet, in France, we know that we have a strong recycling chain across various industries, making sure we collect as much glass as possible and work on reusing it. So, we don’t see ourselves alone in trying to collect and recycle; we participate in a larger glass industry scheme.”
At plant level, the company uses some PCR as raw material but is limited in the amount it can introduce in order to maintain the highest clarity. Stoelzle is also keen to avoid depriving manufacturers further down the chain whose requirements for recycled glass are higher.
In November 2020, Stoelzle was awarded Gold status by the Ecovadis platform in recognition of the glassmaker’s commitment to sustainability. “This is mainly a recognition of all the efforts already done” reflects Mr Gruyez. “It does help our customers to know where we stand. But this is only a step as we are constantly working on improving all corporate social responsibility aspects (environment, ethics, labour and human right, sustainable procurement). We know we can be better and this award is also important for our employees to know that they are working for a company that is in the top 5% of all companies (assessed by Ecovadis). It also helps when recruiting the new generation of employees, as we know these values are very important for them."
“Another recognition that we are very proud of is the EPV label (Entreprise du patrimoine vivant/‘living heritage company’) which values the history and unique knowhow of the company. This label, granted by the French government is very important for us. It is also a clear message of the French Made, which is key for international markets” Mr Gruyez explains.
Challenges and opportunities
Inevitably, reaction to the Covid-19 crisis and how quickly the market recuperates afterwards is a top priority for Stoelzle – a challenge exacerbated by the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic. “We will adapt to satisfy the new market needs” predicts Mr Gruyez. “Also, in the current context, it will allow us to further display our engagement towards sustainability and the current investment allows us to make an important move forward."
“In the short-term, we are looking at a successful restart of the furnace and the new production lines with all their associated technologies and improvements” he continues. “In the medium-term, I look forward to the market recovery and also new potential to be fulfilled by us, thanks to our key strengths. In the long run, I see a plant that will continue to work on innovation and sustainability. We will find new ways of production even less impactful but also solutions to further improve the recyclability of this beautiful material that is glass. Glass remains magic!”