1984. Sofiprotéol took over four CNTA crushing units in Bordeaux, Dieppe, Chalon-sur-Saône and Chauny. It entrusted their operation to the Belgian-Argentine food giant Bunge, and acquired various other assets in the seeds sector (taking a stake in Rustica) and in the packaging of edible oils (Oliprovence).
"The agreement with Bunge was a genuine alliance under which Sofiprotéol was charged with funding investments and Bunge with industrial management of the assets." Philippe Tillous-Borde, Director General of Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2012
The 1980s saw Sofiprotéol increase its loans and investments in companies or organizations both upstream and downstream in the oilseeds and proteins sector: seeds, storage agencies, crushing plants, livestock feeds, human foods and oleochemistry. Far from targeting purely financial goals, these operations were designed to provide support for growth in the sector and to procure added value for its products.
"Our investments were made in response to important plans for sectoral growth. From the start, Sofiprotéol was seen as a trusted partner for all actors in the sector." Yves Delaine, Director of Sofiprotéol commitments from 1983 to 2012
No sector policy could be effective without crushing facilities. This is what led us to take over the CNTA's industrial assets.
Jean-Claude Sabin, Chairman of Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2000
As Bunge's partner, Sofoprotéol implemented a highly original structure. Management of the factories was handed over to Comexol, a company controlled by Bunge. Comexol was itself controlled by Saipol, an assets company owning the industrial sites. Sofiprotéol was a majority shareholder in Saipol, alongside Bunge. A holding company at the top of the structure, Sopro, gave Sofiprotéol control of Saipol
Acquisition of a majority stake in Oliprovence.
1985: Oliprovence launched a brand of flavoured oils called "Jardin d’Orante", moving Sofiprotéol into the consumer products sector for the first time. It participated in an extension project to increase grain storage capacity by 2.5 million metric tons.
Biofuels are produced using non-fossil organic materials such as plants, and as such are a renewable source of energy. From the birth of motor vehicles, tests were performed to fuel them with peanut oil or grain alcohol. But these experiments were abandoned because of low petroleum prices. The oil crises in 1973 and 1979 revived industry’s interest in biofuels; research programs were initiated in all parts of the world on the use of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or rapeseed ester (a mixture of refined vegetable oil and alcohol).
1989. Inauguration of a unit specialized in the crushing of sunflower, rapeseed and soybean in Sète, build in collaboration with the Belgian group Vandemoortele. In Venette, a pilot plant was opened to produce methyl rapeseed oil esters. Very rapidly, real-life experiments were initiated using the fleet of trucks and tractors operated by the Champagne-Ardennes regional federation of farming cooperatives. Crowned with success, they demonstrated the viability of rapeseed ester, as well as its environmental efficiency.
"Sofiprotéol’s highly successful early years demonstrated the ability of professionals in the sector to take charge of their destiny." Gérard Tubéry, Chairman of the FOP
1987 In search of markets for French rapeseed, spurned by consumers and still little present in livestock feeds, ONIDOL (French Interprofessional Organization for Oilseeds and Oil Fruits) and the IFP (French Petroleum Institute) launched their initial studies with a view to creating biofuel made using rapeseed methyl esters. This was the start of the Diester® adventure.
Acquisition of a stake in Robbe, a subsidiary of the French agrifood firm Louis-Dreyfus. Specialized in oleochemistry, it owned a manufacturing plant in Venette, near Compiègne.
Opening of a soybean crushing line in Bassens, near Bordeaux.
The European Union allocated a budget of FF300 million over the period 1991-1995 to support innovative projects focused on the non-food uses of agricultural products, and notably biofuels.
1993 On 30 April, the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, inaugurated Sofiprotéol’s Diester® production site in Compiègne. With an annual capacity of 20,000 tonnes, this marked the start of the industrial age for Diester®.
"Diester® was a gamble, and we laid the foundations starting from nothing. Months of work were necessary to develop efficient refining and catalysis processes." Georges Vermeersch, Innovation and Development Director for Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2011
The French authorities permitted the incorporation of 5% biofuel in diesel fuel – and up to 30% for captive fleets.
"This unit resulted from an exemplary collaboration between farmers, their professional organizations and public institutions." Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, when opening the Diester plant in Compiègne in 1993
Sofiprotéol was successful in arguing that some fallow land could be used to grow plants for non-food uses, and particularly rapeseed for the manufacture of biofuels. The authorities supported the project in the name of environmental efficiency and regional development.
Sofiprotéol opened a major rapeseed and sunflower crushing unit in Grand-Couronne, near Rouen. With a production capacity of 360,000 tonnes, it was managed by Bunge. The site also supplied the new Diester® plant set up by Sofiprotéol in Grand-Couronne.
Historically, fallow is land that is being allowed to rest – without a crop – so that the soil can regenerate. But with the CAP reforms in 1992, this term took on an entirely different meaning: it referred to a measure designed to restrict the surplus production of certain crops, and notably cereals. In exchange for financial compensation, farmers were asked to set aside a certain amount of land on which no crop could be grown.