SUCCESS STORY: Guillaume Fiévet, general manager of PRODEF, which acquired La Savonnerie du Midi in 2013 and recently opened a factory outlet and Marseille soap museum and Philippe Stéfanini, general manager of Provence Promotion.

Crowning a year 2018 that saw the re-starting of its original cauldrons, the Marseille soap manufacturer La Savonnerie du Midi recently opened a museum and sales outlet at its Les Aygalades factory in the north of the city. Founded 124 years ago, the company has been given a new lease on life since its takeover in 2013 by the French SME PRODEF, a specialist in cleaning and hygiene products. The Paris-based group has invested €1.5M in raising the profile of this symbol of Provence both in France and overseas, resulting in a 70% surge in export sales. This investment has been recognized by the awarding of the Invest in Provence label, which was presented to La Savonnerie du Midi at the opening ceremony of its museum on December 18.

It was an impulse buy in 2013 that saw a star of Marseille’s industrial heritage return to its former glory. It was in that year that the Paris-based PRODEF (Produits d’Entretien Français) acquired La Savonnerie du Midi and rolled up its sleeves.

After investing €1.5M in renovating the steel cauldrons and creating a factory retail outlet, La Savonnerie du Midi opened its Marseille soap museum on December 18. The inauguration ceremony was attended by a large number of guests and elected officials who supported the project.

20% Increase in Earnings in Four Years

Partner in the project from the very start, Provence Promotion presented La Savonnerie du Midi’s CEO Guillaume Fiévet with the Invest in Provence award, in recognition of the company’s commitment to the local economy. “You have become part of the community and are now, in turn, an ambassador for Provence,” said Provence Promotion general manager Philippe Stéfanini on presenting the award. The Metropolitan Authority’s economic development agency provided the former director of Lafarge with assistance in organizing its round table and with hiring.

It also opened the doors of the Savonniers de Marseille to him, recognition of the company’s compliance with traditional manufacturing practices. “In less than four years, our earnings have increased 20% to reach €7M in 2017, a year marked by a 70% increase in export sales,” underlined Fiévet at the ceremony.

“Marseille has huge potential and its soap has a bright future”

“The saga of Marseille soap is far from over. Consumers want to learn about the product and where it comes from. Our museum will help them understand,” explains Guillaume Fiévet.

Founded in 1894, La Savonnerie du Midi moved to its present location in a former semolina factory in Les Aygalades in 1970, after being taken over by the Garbit Group. The museum’s three galleries contain 250 objects, paddles, advertising posters, portraits of soap workers etc., that recount the Marseille soap story and manufacturing process. La Savonnerie du Midi has two brands of soap, La Corvette and Maître Savon de Marseille.

“We are located in an area that has huge tourist potential, close to a beautiful waterfall. I have to admit that I was slightly nervous about setting up in Marseille, what’s more in the northern district. I was pleasantly surprised by the welcome I received from the factory workers, whose vast experience has been a huge support. I’ve discovered charming neighbors and have become a member of the Cap au Nord Entreprendre associative network, which has 200 member companies. There is such a lot going on here! We have joint projects with the Cité des Arts de la Rue circus arts school and the Amis des Aygalades neighborhood association. During the annual “heritage days”, we organized factory open days that attracted around a hundred visitors,” enthuses Guillaume Fiévet, who is also general manager of the PRODEF group and great-great-nephew of its founder Raoul Nordling.