Essilor International has signed up Johnson & Johnson Vision Care as its first partners in a new business-to-business internet portal, VisionWeb, that should become operational in the USA at the start of 2001. The two leading companies are looking for new financial partners in the new initiative, which is intended to optimize the efficiency of the optical supply chain in all areas, including corrective lenses, contact lenses and frames.

Essilor has signed an even more future-oriented partnership with another US firm, The MicroOptical Corporation of Westwood, Mass., for the joint development of systems that will allow the display on corrective lenses of screen images from portable computers and mobile phones. Essilor has acquired a minority stake in the 5-year-old US firm, which has patented a system that integrates a miniature video projector into one of the temples of the eye frame.

Separately, Essilor has announced the acquisition of two more laboratories in the USA, with a joint annual sales volume of about $50 million. They are ProVision Group of California, the country's 6th-largest one, and Custom Eyes of Minnesota, which specializes in telemarketing. Essilor already enjoys a high overall market share in the USA but feels that there is ample scope for expansion, especially in the area of anti-reflection coatings which are now applied only to 11 percent of the corrective lenses sold in the country, as against 100 percent in Japan.

Meanwhile, the world's largest lens manufacturer reports a 25 percent increase in its net income to 69.4 million euros for the 6 months ended June 30, which is better than previously expected. The operating income rose by 21 percent to e130.3 million, in spite of considerable expenditures for the development of VisionWeb, representing an year-on-year increase in the operating margin from 13.1 to 13.3 percent.

As previously reported, Essilor raised its sales by 19 percent in the 1st half to e978.2 million, but the increase would have been of only 8.1 percent on a comparable basis, without acquisitions and in constant currencies. On a comparable basis, sales rose by 10.5 percent in Europe to e440.3 million, by 5.4 percent in North America to e451.9 million, and by 9.7 percent in the rest of the world to e86 million. The group confirms its forecast of an average 5-6 percent annual sales increase in the medium term.