In the form of cups, plates, bowls and many other product types, glass tableware is an essential part of daily life.
Arc Group is one of the biggest global names providing these products through its brands Arcoroc, Luminarc, Arcopal, Cristal d’Arques Paris and Chef&Sommelier.
These brands supply the global foodservice and retail industries, from premium brands to supermarkets, through glass types, including crystalline, opal, transparent and coloured.
The company has production sites in the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China, but its biggest site and headquarters are located in the French commune Arques, where Arc first established itself as an industrial powerhouse in 1825.
With an almost 200-year history, Packaging Gateway looks at how such a mammoth company is balancing its legacy alongside meeting the demand for modern innovations in glass tableware manufacturing.
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Arc’s glass tableware manufacturing facility in Arques
Out of Arc’s 7,000 employees around the world, 5,000 work in the Arques manufacturing facility, which is built around the existing village and contains an on-site hospital and canteen.
The site is also conveniently located next to a canal, along which barges journey from Belgium carrying sand used to produce up to two million items of glassware a day. The focus is on obtaining the purest material and sand possible, as additives such as soda-lime increase costs.
Arc’s glass furnaces
At the core of the site are six working furnaces. Arc CEO Nicholas Hodler explained that: “One of Arc’s big projects right now is electrifying our transparent glass furnaces. Nothing that exists today is economically viable, but we are convinced we’ve found a solution.
“We plan to convert one of our gas fired furnaces to electricity by 2026. This is helped by us being based in France, because so much electricity in France is nuclear and therefore carbon-free.”
Any broken or damaged glass items that emerge from the furnaces are reintroduced into production, as Hodler asserts that it is “cheaper and easier to make recycled glass than new glass.”
Arc representatives explained that there is a push to reduce the scale of movement across the site’s operation by moving the furnaces closer together.
The nature of a glass furnace means that even if there is a lower demand for glass products, it can never be switched off but only put to simmer. Unsurprisingly, this accrues high costs.
Such financial barriers are a factor behind the lack of new players in the glass manufacturing industry, alongside the necessary energy requirements. An Arc representative confirmed that energy prices are far higher in Europe compared to the company’s competitors based in Asia and the Middle East.
Arc’s glass product packaging
The company prides itself on the strength of its tempered glass products. However, packaging glass items still carries a high risk of breakage depending on the type of material used.
For the Luminarc brand, the glass plates are stacked on top of one another in sets of five before being covered in plastic shrink wrap and placed into cardboard boxes.
For any company, the progress behind the sustainable aspects of a product can be undone by accompanying packaging, which is harmful to the environment.
Thankfully, Arc’s plastic shrink wrap is recyclable, but this is hampered by a lack of recycling infrastructure in key markets such as the UK.
Arc also receives requests from major clients such as IKEA to have sustainable and cost-effective manufacturing processes for both product and packaging, a balance which is difficult to strike.
Sustainability in glass tableware manufacturing
As well as clients and consumers, the company is also under pressure from the French government and European Union to reduce its carbon emissions. Arc’s goal is a reduction of 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 through furnace electrification.
A representative confirmed that 80% of the company’s emissions are derived from gas within the melting process inside the furnaces, which have a lifecycle of ten years. Dismantling a furnace before the completion of this timeline would be costly for Arc, hence the focus on 2030 as a realistic goal.
However, moving from gas to electricity isn’t a fix-all, as the raw materials must be adapted to this change too. The new materials must contain no carbon for Arc to be able to continue producing quality glass products.
The end result is Arc’s ‘eco-design’ glass tableware products, which have a reduced weight, requiring less energy to melt in manufacturing while maintaining the same level of resistance.
As for the ever-present question of greenwashing, Arc spokespeople affirmed that employees are informed of the latest company statistics on its sustainable goals and that “We would prefer not to say anything if we cannot back it up.”
“There’s definitely been a shift in the last 12 to 18 months towards sustainability being a prerequisite before you can even discuss pricing or methodology with customers. They want to see concrete numbers first.”
In the wider glass manufacturing industry, the move from gas has been assisted by the Ukraine war and subsequent energy crisis, giving many companies no choice but to consider alternative energy.
Arc is working with The French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME) and is currently calculating pricing estimates for its sustainable developments.
The success of these goals will see a historic company join forces with the modern innovations that the glass industry needs.