UPDATE 2-Essilor bets on sunglasses and China after weak 2013

Thu Feb 27, 2014 1:33pm EST
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* Aims to double revenue in sunwear to 1.1 bln euros by 2018

* Buys Coastal.com for $388 mln to boost online sales

* Sees margin gradually rising to 19.5 pct in 2016

* Sales growth slowed, operating profit missed consensus

By Natalie Huet

PARIS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Lens maker Essilor is betting on appetite for trendy sunglasses among the fast-growing middle classes of China and other emerging markets to drive sales after weakness in Europe and North America weighed on 2013 earnings.

The French company is the world's largest opthalmic lens maker with a 37 percent market share, supplying eyewear makers such as Milan-based Luxottica. Its products span reading glasses that sell in India for the equivalent of a few euros to high-performance lenses costing hundreds.

But Essilor had to cut its sales growth forecast twice last year and still missed this target, blaming a slower-than-expected recovery in Europe and North America, tough competition and delays in finalising some acquisitions.

The company now plans to focus more on sunglass lenses - which currently make up just 10 percent of revenue - aiming to double sales by 2018. The market in sunglasses is expanding twice as fast as the corrective lens market, as consumers follow fashion trends and are willing to spend more to protect their eyes from the sun's harmful effects.   Continued...