Dec. 3, 2021


Miren de Larrea García-Morato

Spain

Miren de Larrea García-Morato

President & CEO, TOLSA

With a strong international presence, Tolsa's heavy emphasis on research has allowed it to produce many products sold in supermarkets in addition to its mining operations and additives business.

Tolsa is a leader in the sector of special clays, with operations in more than 95 countries. How has the company evolved?

The company was founded in Toledo in 1957, and initially it focused on bleaching earths, special clays for wine and oil clarification.All edible oils are filtered using special clays, and these clays are still being used to clarify beers and oils, just like the Romans did. In the 1970s, the business diversified to cat litter, a market in which we are the European leaders, and in the 1990s to the technical field. We have the first technological additive approved in Europe for animal feed, which improves the functionality of animal feed. In addition, we have developed other industrial additives that can be used across a range of sectors from pharmaceuticals to paints, construction and fire-resistant sectors. We have had a heavily international approach in many aspects for the last 35 years. Until the mid-1980s, we were basically the only cat litter producer in Europe, and therefore we have sold much more outside of Spain than in our local market. Today, 95% of our sales are international in more than 90 countries. We opened our first business offices abroad, France and Italy, in 1986, made our first acquisition, a competitor in the UK, in 1996, and acquired an attapulgite mine in Senegal in 1998. In 2002, we purchased competitors in the Netherlands and France as part of our growth. Later, we added other mines in Morocco, Turkey, Argentina, and the US. We are constantly looking for deposits of special clays of high quality.

How is your pet products business doing in Europe, where you have 35% market share?

Without any doubt, we are the number-one company in Europe and a significant player worldwide. We are now breaking into Latin America because the mine in Argentina has a particularly high-quality product. Initially, we started exporting from Spain to Chile, but we are now producing in Argentina. We are also selling the mineral in the US, both with our own brand and also for third parties.

What are your main markets?

Our main markets are Germany, France,
Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, having subsidiaries in all of them. In addition, we export to China, Middle East, Japan, South Korea, Australia and many more countries. In terms of Latin America, we are present in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina and are growing significantly in Africa as well. We have a company in Senegal and another in Morocco However, Europe represents the 70% of our sales, including Spain.

In 2020, you closed the year with EUR190 million, 4% more YoY. What strategy did you employ to mitigate the impact of the pandemic?

When COVID-19 reached Italy, we got masks via our Chinese supplier. On March 5, we had a case in our one of our offices, and we sent all our staff home. We then realized we were more prepared than we thought. We experienced record sales in February and March. Our factories were operating everywhere except in Argentina, but they started a week later. Sales of industrial products have fallen, but we have grown in terms of pet products. We were unable to maintain the commitment of delivering in 48-72 hours, but our customers understood the situation. Our energy costs have fallen, and this has benefited us.

Innovation is one of the key pillars of the company. It allocates 30 of the 850 employees, 10 laboratories, and 3.5% of its turnover to R&D. What is your vision here?

We have always placed great emphasis on research. We are essentially a mining company that also sells its products in supermarkets. We produce additives that go directly into animal feed or wire coating. We are a heavily integrated company. Many paints and cosmetics contain these clays because they help the mixture remain uniform and not drip. We want to sell value-added products, not commodities.