French tableware brand Duralex is joining a growing array of European firms that are reducing and halting production because of soaring energy costs provoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
t the glassmakers’ plant in central France, workers are preparing to put the furnace into a slumber for at least four months as the company stops production.
The 77-year-old company counts generations of French schoolchildren, Mongolian yak herders and Afghan diners among worldwide users of its glasses, bowls and plates.
Actor Daniel Craig drank from one the firm’s “Picardie” tumblers when playing James Bond in Skyfall.
Duralex’s thunderous machines that turn incandescent blobs of molten glass into hundreds of thousands of tableware items each day will fall silent on November 1.
Company president Jose-Luis Llacuna is taking radical but, he hopes, business-saving action to stop production.
Mr Llacuna said in an interview at the plant outside Orleans in central France: “The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is look at the daily change in electricity and gas prices.
“Needless to say, there’s an incredible amount of volatility. It’s truly a rollercoaster, and the outlook for the future is a complete unknown.”
Facing the risks of power shortages, rationing and blackouts when demand surges this winter and of an expected recession as businesses shut down, Europe is scrambling for energy alternatives, stockpiling gas and urging consumers to save. European Union energy ministers are holding emergency talks on the bloc’s latest proposals for alleviating the crisis.
At Duralex, the costs of heating the furnace to above 1,400C with roaring torrents of flaming gas and of transforming the molten glass into tableware on the production lines manned by sweating workers are set to burn through 40% of the company’s revenue if it keeps producing, “which is untenable”, Mr Llacuna said.
The production shutdown will last at least four months. The glass furnace cannot be switched off entirely, because that could destroy it. Instead, it will be maintained in a hot slumber, slashing the firm’s energy use by half. The aim is to then fire it back up by the spring.
In the meantime, the 250 employees will work fewer days, with drops in pay just as inflation is gnawing at household budgets.
“It’s very hard to stomach,” said Michel Carvalho, a production line crew chief who has been with the company for 17 years.
“Around the world, everyone is suffering from this war,” he said. “We’re hostages. Absolutely. We’re being used. Because being asked to stop work is hard. And we’re not responsible for what is happening.”
Duralex will fall back on its stockpiles to keep customers supplied during the stoppage. But competitors are circling, using the production halt as an argument to try to lure away the company’s customers, Mr Llacuna said.
He is knocking on government doors for financial help, speaking by phone to the French economy minister last week.
A prolonged energy crisis, Mr Llacuna warned, could be grim.
“It must not last three years,” he said. “Because then European industry will die, and that will be dramatic.”