Saverglass' Jean-Marc Arrambourg: "All of the market’s parameters have been upended"

Saverglass' Jean-Marc Arrambourg:

© Jean-Marc Arrambourg, Saverglass President

Saverglass President Jean-Marc Arrambourg shares his vision of the crisis currently facing the glassmaking industry and details how and why his company continues to grow, despite the headwinds.

How has Saverglass been dealing with the current climate?

For us glassmakers, who are major consumers of energy and raw materials, all of the market’s parameters have been upended of late. It is unprecedented to face increasing energy and raw material costs, packaging shortage and the crisis of available transport, especially maritime transport, all at once. All of this took on a new dimension when the war broke out in Ukraine.

To protect our business, we have increased our prices by around 45%over the last two years. The positive side is that our markets—high-end wines and spirits—are doing very well. Consumers are drinking less, but they are drinking better. In this context, brands must enhance their savoir-faire and their products to offer a “beautiful” experience to their consumers. Packaging naturally plays a key role in this strategy.

At Saverglass, we are fortunate that our products generate sufficient margins to overcome the current pitfalls. It is in no one’s interest, and especially not that of an industrialist like us, to see prices increase for the reasons cited above. The situation is cyclical.

How did Saverglass perform in 2022?

Our turnover hit the €786m mark last year, which is a 20% increase compared to 2021. All spirits categories reported growth, but tequila and mezcal especially have been at the top of the charts for about five years with double-digit increases. Tequila, which historically is consumed in North America is now being exported around the world due to the global cocktail craze. Bourbon, too, has been an important factor for growth.

Did you double the capacity of your Mexican plant in Acatlan de Juarez to cater to these markets?

Our site in Mexico is now the world’s largest glassworks for premium spirits and wines, with a production capacity of 200,000 tons. The plant makes colored glass for US wine brands, but the majority is dedicated to tequila, mezcal, bourbon, gin-a segment that is on the rise-vodka, for which demand remains very strong, and rum. Most of these spirits are created and bottled locally.

What are your CSR projects in the context of glass innovation?

The main challenge is the reduction and eventual elimination of CO2 emissions. There is no simple solution given the size of our furnaces, unlike the cosmetics and fragrance industries. Reducing emissions via electric power is therefore not a viable answer, as our furnaces are four to seven times larger than those used in cosmetics. There is currently no existing technology that would allow us to convert to electric furnaces. In keeping with our commitment to reduce our scope 1 and 2 CO2 emissions by 50% by 2035, our roadmap provides for a step-by-step transition for each of our furnaces.

The first step will be the introduction of green or noncarbonated electricity into the energy mix. This year, for example, during its rebuild, furnace 5 at Feuquières will see its share of electricity triple, from around 10% to just over 30%. The same strategy will be applied to the next furnaces undergoing renovation.

Hydrogen is another area of research, but for the moment there are issues holding back development in this area, including the availability of sufficient quantities of clean hydrogen. There is no immediate solution to that problem.

The second issue concerns hydrogen’s impact on furnace design. We’ll have to reinvent the furnace of the future so that it can—along with other energy mixes —produce glass in quality and quantity, but with the certainty that the furnace will have a satisfactory economic life span. Over the past two years, we have installed a burner regulation system that allows us to control the temperature of the melter to the nearest degree. This initiative is first being deployed in each of our three plants in France, the idea being to improve our production methods and our yields and to reduce waste.

What role does collaboration play among glassmakers to progress when it comes to decarbonization?

The industry has been working intensely on this for a while. I was disappointed when the Furnace of the Future project fell through (editor’s note: the project did not receive the EU Innovation Fund grant it needed to remain viable), as it made sense for the whole industry to make a joint R&D effort. We are currently working with our colleagues who want to partner in this area, such as Verescence for the Vercane project, under the aegis of Engie and with the furnace designer Fives, to model and evaluate the most reliable energy paths. We are also working on the decarbonization of raw materials as part of a multi-industry project in partnership with Celsian.

What are your other levers for decarbonization?

Lightweighting is one area we work on. Although this trend isn’t new, it is somewhat of a balancing act when our customers ask us for differentiating packaging, with shapes and visual effects that make their products stand out. We rely a lot on newer technologies, especially simulation tools, to help us to predict how the glass will behave-its flow inside the mold, the distribution of the material, and the thickness of the walls, even before production. In this context, we tend to speak of ‘right weighting’ rather than lightweighting.

How are new technologies driving R&D?

Although the glassmaking profession remains centered on human know-how (hence the creation of our in-house training academy, the Écoles du Verre et du Décor), we need to understand what remains enigmatic and sometimes empirical in this profession; artificial intelligence can help us do this. We are currently deploying our “4.0” factory model. Three pilot lines are debuting this year, on which we will install data capture components to better understand how our lines and furnaces operate. Glass is, by definition, a material that needs stability, and the stability of the process is thwarted by hygrometry, the ambient temperature of the workshop, and the nature of the cullet that is introduced... We are trying to push the limits. These are particular times and we must go out on a limb and try new things. Environmental awareness forces us to do so and new technologies are guiding us. It’s a very exciting moment in the industry with a lot of dynamics and we’re staying busy!

This article is an excerpt of the feature interview published in the Spring 2023 issue of Formes de Luxe.

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