Sofiprotéol took over four CNTA crushing factories in Bordeaux, Dieppe, Chalon-sur-Saône and Chauny.
It handed over the running of these to the Belgian-Argentinian food giant Bunge and acquired various other assets in seeds (a stake in Rustica) and edible oil packaging (Oliprovence).
The agreement with Bunge was a genuine alliance, whereby Sofiprotéol oversaw the financing and Bunge the industrial management of the assets.
Philippe Tillous-Borde, CEO of Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2012
The 1980s. Sofiprotéol increased loans and investments in companies and organisations both upstream and downstream in the oilseeds sector: seeds, grain storage organisations, crushing, animal feed, human nutrition and oleochemistry. Far from simply targeting financial goals, these operations were designed to assist the sector's development and provide added value to its products.
Our investments contributed to a real plan for developing the sector. Sofiprotéol immediately established itself as the partner to all the sector’s stakeholders.
Yves Delaine, Sofiprotéol's Commitments Director 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, like plants. When the automobile first appeared, experiments were carried out on fuelling engines with peanut oil or grain alcohol. But these trials were abandoned because petroleum was so cheap. The oil crises of 1973 and 1979 revived manufacturers’ interest in biofuels. Research began to be carried out all over the world on the use of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and rapeseed ester (a mixture of refined vegetable oil and alcohol).
Opening of a factory for crushing rapeseed, sunflower and soya seeds at Sète, built in collaboration with the Belgian group Vandemoortele.
Opening at Venette of a pilot factory for producing methyl rapeseed oil esters. Real-life experiments were rapidly carried out on the lorry and tractor fleet of the regional federation of farming cooperatives in Champagne-Ardennes. These were highly successful, demonstrating both the viability of rapeseed ester and its effectiveness in environmental terms.
Sofiprotéol's very successful first years demonstrated the ability of professionals in the sector to take charge of their destiny.
Gérard Tubéry, Chairman of FOP
In search of outlets for French rapeseed, spurned by consumers and still little used in animal feed, ONIDOL (national interbranch organisation of oilseed producers) launched initial studies together with the IFP (French petroleum institute) with a view to creating a biofuel based on methyl rapeseed esters. This was the start of the Diester story.
Acquisition of a stake in Robbe, a subsidiary of the French food firm Louis-Dreyfus. A specialist in oleochemistry, it owned a manufacturing plant at Venette, near Compiègne.
Opening of a soya crushing line in Bassens, near Bordeaux.
The European Union allocated a budget of FF300 million for the period 1991-1995 to support innovative projects in non-food applications of farming products, including biofuels.
On 30 April, the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, inaugurated Sofiprotéol's Diester factory in Compiègne. With an annual capacity of 20,000 metric tons, this marked the beginning of the industrial age for Diester.
Diester was a challenge and we laid the foundations from scratch. It took months of work to develop efficient refining and catalysing processes.
Georges Vermeersch, Sofiprotéol’s Innovation and Development Director from 1983 to 2011
The French authorities authorised a 5% incorporation of biofuels, increasing to a maximum of 30% for captive fleets (vehicles belonging to a company or organisation).
This factory is the result of an exemplary collaboration between farmers, their professional organisations and public institutions.
Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, at the inauguration of the Diester factory at Compiègne in 1993
Sofiprotéol successfully argued for a proportion of fallow land to be used to grow non-food plants, particularly rapeseed dedicated to biofuels. The authorities supported the project in the name of environmental performance and land-use planning.
Sofiprotéol opened a large rapeseed and sunflower seed crushing factory at Grand Couronnes, near Rouen. It had a production capacity of 360,000 metric tons and was managed by Bunge. The site also supplied the new Diester plant Sofiprotéol decided to build at Grand Couronnes.
Historically, fallow land was an area left to rest, where no crops were grown to allow the soil to regenerate. With the CAP reform in 1992, the term took on a different meaning, coming to refer to a measure designed to reduce surplus production of certain crops, particularly cereals. In exchange for financial compensation, farmers had to set aside a certain number of areas where no crops would be grown.