Put a Cork In It

Staff Writer
The story behind cork and other alternative closures

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Alternative closures were all the rage in the 1990s and that has been a real challenge for the cork industry, which saw its dominance of the sector diminish considerably thanks to competitive closures such as screwcaps, glass closures, synthetic corks and cork composites. However, that trend seems to be turning around and the cork industry is feeling almost giddy.

No one could be more pleased than Antonio Amorium, President and CEO of Corticeira Amorim. The 43-year-old manager heads his family’s company, which is the world leader in cork production and has been for the past 150 years. The firm has a 70% market share and sales of 450 million euro in 103 countries. Still, they don’t rest on their laurels and Amorim spends five million euro a year on research and development. Alone, the firm accounts for 3% of Portugal’s export sales. 

“We took the competition very seriously and have heavily invested in R&D to find new technologies and new techniques. We have been able to regain our position vis-a-vis plastics because they have revealed themselves to be unreliable. They are fragile, prone to oxidation and hard to pull out of the bottle,” said Antonio Amorim, President and CEO of Corticeira Amorim.

The company saw its 2010 profits, especially in the cork stoppers business unit, rise 13% to 42 million euro in consolidated sales. The cork stoppers accounted for around 30 million euro of that amount. Spain, France and Italy also showed increases of between 10%-23% while new world countries such as Chile, Australia, and the US recorded an increase of 13%-20% in cork sales.

“The first signs of the crisis were in 2008-2009, but we took the necessary steps to be in a good position. In fact, we had our best performance in 2010. I am still cautious but with more optimism,” Amorim added.

Annual cork production is 300,000 tons and takes place in the Mediterranean basin. Some 52.5% of the total is grown in Portugal while another 29.5% grows in Spain and 5.5% in Italy. The rest grows in Algeria (5.2%), Morocco (3.7%), Tunisia (2.5%), and France (1.1%).

Italy is the third most important producer of cork in the world. Of the 2.2 million hectares of cork forests, some 225,000 of them are in Italy, 90% of which are in Sardegna and the other 10% in Sicily, Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany and Campagna. This amount equals one and a half million corks. In fact, the wine industry is without a doubt the largest client of the cork industry and uses 70% of Italy’s total cork production.