Sofidel: 50 years of growing into the future

An adventure begun 50 years ago by the two company founders, Emi Stefani and Giuseppe Lazzareschi, is today a one-of-a-kind international giant. A 100% Italian excellence that boasts one-half century of history.

Maura Leonardi

It was 1966. Italy was experiencing an extraordinary economic boom; young entrepreneurs gifted with vision and courage were giving life to companies that in just a few years would change the face of the country. Among them, Emi Stefani and Giuseppe Lazzareschi, impassioned and farsighted, understood that the moment was right to capitalize on the exceptional history of the Lucca Paper District to turn its precious artisan experience into industrial knowhow.

FIFTY YEARS AGO, THE STEFANI & LAZZARESCHI COMPANY WAS BORN, the initial Sofidel spore that later became the international group we all know today, present in 13 countries, solidly established among the global leaders in tissue production. A lot has changed in the course of these five decades, from technologies to consumption, but Sofidel’s natural way of looking ahead has always triumphed. Among the Group’s founding characteristics is the spur to make innovation – whether technical or product – the road to growth.

INNOVATION AS A COMPETITIVE LEVER AND NOT ONLY. Sofidel acknowledges innovation as an instrument to reconcile business with another important aspect of its way of working: sustainability. Always resistant to greenwashing – mere words on the theme of environmental protection, of respect for the territories a company is involved in and on the correct use of natural resources – with its CEO Luigi Lazzareschi, Sofidel has put concrete, measurable actions into place that merge the needs of an expanding industrial group with the sustainability of its activities. Indeed, the innovation practiced by Sofidel is not limited to investments in automation and to the development of evolved products, but is actively embodied in the reduction of the impact of the activities it performs worldwide. Proof of this – among the other commitments undertaken by the Group – is its adhesion (as the only Italian member and the first in the tissue field globally) to the international Climate Savers program where the WWF invites large companies to voluntarily adopt greenhouse gas reduction programs through innovative strategies and technologies. A story built of important stages, of targets attained and goals still to be reached. Let’s review the cornerstones of Sofidel’s history to understand how the company has changed and, above all, how it will continue to change, because the Group that is today celebrating its 50th birthday is definitely more inclined to look ahead than to stop for self-congratulations.

A GROUP BORN UNDER THE BANNER OF INNOVATION. In the 1970s, with the country’s industrialization came an increase in the consumption of paper for hygienic and domestic use. Soffass first and Delicarta immediately afterwards seized the challenge posed by the market and extended their interests from the production of paper to converting it into quality finished products. Converting proved to be a winning choice and, after conquering the domestic market, the Group began looking at European markets, exporting finished products. The 1980s constitute a new, important growth in production capacity that took place thanks to investments in increasingly efficient plants. In 1982, the new Delicarta mill inaugurated its first machine to which a second was added just a short time later and a third in 1994, bringing the Group’s production capacity to 140,000 tons. At the end of this decade, Sofidel was born in Porcari bringing together the original companies – Soffass, Fine Paper and Delicarta – with the task of coordinating production efforts and supplying integrated services under the banner of innovation. In 2001, Sofidel takes on the strategic role of Group holding, dictating the course for expansion and applying the guidelines of its philosophy, summarized in today’s payoff “Endless Care. Innovative Life”. In the words of Luigi Lazzareschi, the scope of the mission behind all the Sofidel companies is to “Strive to make our daily life cleaner, safer, more orderly, practical and respect for the rules, with the aim of creating value for our clients, employees, partners, shareholders and for the community as a whole”.

INTERNATIONALIZATION. 1997 marks a further significant step in the history of Sofidel: Delipapier, the integrated facility in Frouard, France, was born and with it, the Group brought production directly onto European markets. It is the beginning of the first phase of internationalization, the greenfield investment phase (1990-2007), where Sofidel, following the widespread development of mass retailing, expands into Poland, Great Britain, Spain and Germany. These are major increments in production capacity, made possible by a continental market growing at a strong and steady rate of 3-4% per year. 

MEANWHILE, IN 2004, THE GROUP LANDS IN TURKEY AND IN 2007 STRENGTHENS ITS PRESENCE IN GERMANY where, after the startup of the Delisoft sales company, it purchases the Werra Group (seven companies). These are the first signs of a change in growth strategy. With the crisis that began in 2008, the market was changing and the space available for new production capacity was dwindling. Now was the time for focused acquisitions of companies and brands. A choice that, in a difficult economic and financial context, proved to be an effective and immediate instrument to grow the Group’s presence on the markets. The years spanning from 2008 to 2015 see the purchase of the brands Le Trèfle and Sopalin in France, and Softis in Germany; Papyros in Greece and Comceh in Romania become part of the Group and so does the LPC Group (2010) headquartered in Great Britain with facilities in Sweden, Belgium and France. Sofidel thus becomes the second major European player in the tissue market.

2012 IS THE YEAR OF YET ANOTHER HISTORICAL STEP: SOFIDEL’S PLAYING FIELD BROADENS WITH THE ADDITION OF THE UNITED STATES, initially with a series of strategic acquisitions and then, in 2015, with the extended greenfield project in Circleville, Ohio. In relatively few years, Sofidel establishes its presence in seven states and attains a production capacity of 200,000 tons. And so we arrive at present, looking to the future. In the USA, the company pursues the strategy applied in Europe, with the necessary adaptations, while in the Old Continent, a new phase is beginning, focused on incrementing the production of existing facilities. A phase of organic growth, more continuous and less traumatic. REGINA: THE ICON. The concept of brand began to gain foothold in Italy in the 1980s: the evocative and attractive force of the brand proved to be a very strong liaison between those who produce and those who buy and TV advertising a formidable vehicle to enter consumers’ homes. It is the début of Regina, still today the icon of Sofidel’s portfolio; the most widely acknowledged and appreciated range of tissue products for hygienic and domestic use in Italy. The Group realizes the enormous potential of its brand and knowingly uses publicity as the preferred communication channel.

BUT IT IS IN THE 1990S, WITH THE LAUNCH OF ROTOLONI AND ASCIUGONI, THAT REGINA BECOMES AN ABSOLUTE STAR, also thanks to the entertaining commercials that show the infinite amount of sheets that the products contain. But Rotoloni and Asciugoni have another important merit: they have totally innovated the category, focusing on size, performance and convenience. As always, behind every product innovation lies research, development and investments. The results obtained by Regina are due to the increase in the plants’ production capacity and – another major factor – an improvement in logistics together with enhanced shelf yield per linear meter.

PRODUCT STRATEGY: QUALITY, SAFETY, INNOVATION, WELLNESS. Toilet tissue, kitchen towels, handkerchiefs, facial tissue… Every Sofidel product expresses the strategy of a Group that makes innovation, safety and attention to health, personal wellness and safeguarding the environment the reference points of its value-creating process. Sofidel’s goal is to make products that contain fewer amounts of natural capital thanks to higher functional qualities and innovative performance.

SUSTAINABILITY: A CORPORATE CREED, A DAILY PRACTICE. Sofidel defines sustainability as a lever for growth and competitive development, and this conviction is present throughout the Group as a work philosophy and a daily practice. In addition to adhering to the WWF’s Climate Savers program in 2008, through which the company officially pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions, it pursues an investment policy in management technologies capable of reducing the use of water resources and also follows a responsible supply chain for its raw materials. In 2010, Sofidel joined the United Nations’ Global Compact, a strategic platform dedicated to companies and aimed at promoting foundational principles when it comes to human rights, work, the environment and the fight against corruption. In 2014, Sofidel took on the “Less is more” principle, an assumption of responsibility for the way the company works that spurs it to research solutions that yield more in terms of value, products and services, while using less in terms of consumption and waste. Endorsing this principle is a concrete action and sets new ambitious goals to attain by 2020 within the WWF Climate Savers program. In addition to reducing specific direct and indirect emissions, Sofidel is also committed to incrementing the use of renewable energy and having an active role in promoting Low Carbon Economy in the specific industrial sector as well as among its stakeholders.

FROM INDUSTRIAL GROUP TO BRAND. With its 50 years, Sofidel confirms its leadership on the market and marks its passage from industrial group to brand. The company is an Italian excellence with important numbers: over 1,058,000 tons of paper produced per year in 13 countries worldwide; 5,584 employees, a consolidated turnover of 1,809 million euro; 99.97% of the cellulose used comes from certified or controlled sources; 17.80% reduction in direct CO2 emissions (2009/2015) with a reduction goal of 23% by 2020, attention to water resources with facilities where the production process uses 60% less water compared to the average best practice in the field.

THE FUTURE IS NOW. Sofidel’s future concerns investments in new technologies for paper mills and converting plants, as demonstrated by the recent inauguration of the new Swedish Tissue converting facilities and the purchase of Advantage New Tissue Technology (NTT) – a new-generation machine – in Poland. Additional lines will be installed in the converting facilities. Innovation has always been about Sofidel’s products, too: from the creation of Rotoloni to products particularly suitable for AFH, such as Dissolvetech, the hand towel that dissolves in the WC, and Biotech that helps keep pipes and sewerage systems clean. Product R&D will continue in the future as well. Vision, courage and strong commitment make Sofidel an industrial Group unique in its kind that has marked the history of the tissue field and will continue to do so in the future. *

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