Hoya has acquired full ownership of its long-standing distributor in Brazil, Optotal, giving the Japanese company a strong footprint in South America and setting the stage for what the company describes as “aggressive” expansion in the fast-growing Brazilian market.

With a staff of about 400 people, Optotal has been growing at an average annual rate of 28 percent since 2008, after the establishment of a joint venture with Hoya to set up the largest prescription lens laboratory in the country. Its sales reached about 150 million reais (€59.9m-$79.4m) last year.

Optotal suffered relatively little damage from the shutdown of Hoya's superlaboratory in Thailand between last October and last month, according to Seniltz Rangel, a veteran of the Brazilian optical industry who will continue to run the company. He said that this is because it had created a buffer stock of four months' worth of stock lenses to power its strong recent growth.

According to Brazilian industry officials interviewed last week at Abioptica, the national optical fair in São Paulo, the country's ophthalmic lens market grew last year by about 25 percent to between R$6 billion (€2.4bn-$3.2bn) and R$7 billion (€2.8bn-$3.7bn), depending on the sources. They give Hoya a market share in value of around 20 percent, the same or slightly higher than Carl Zeiss Vision, compared with close to 50 percent for the Essilor International group. In terms of volume, estimated at about 40 million lenses in 2011, Essilor is given a market share of 40 percent, CZV 25 percent and Hoya 15 percent.

The statistics show that between 2007 and 2010, the value of the Brazilian ophthalmic lens market grew by an estimated 130 percent, thanks to the growing popularity of multifocal lenses. Only 35 million people wear corrective lenses in Brazil, according to studies conducted for Abioptica, but Hoya points out that more than 57 million inhabitants will be aged 45 years or older by 2013, representing the target market for the company's progressive lenses.

Optotal was founded in 1992 to distribute Hoya's range of vision care products by Carlos Bessa. The son of an eye doctor, he launched Essilor's Varilux progressive lenses in Brazil around 1968 on a licensed basis and then sold it to Essilor in 1986, along with a factory for single-vision lenses in Manaos.

Optotal's staff includes around 80 salespeople, compared with 70 at Zeiss and 150 at Essilor, where they are called “sales consultants.” As only ophthalmologists are allowed to perform sight tests and to prescribe ophthalmic lenses in Brazil, they play a very important function. According to industry officials, eye doctors often prescribe the actual brand of lenses that they should purchase as well as the place where they should buy them in exchange for a sales commission.

As for Zeiss, which has had a direct presence in Brazil as a group for 20 years, it started to make free-from lenses at two of its laboratories in the country earlier this year, using Schneider machinery. It was previously importing them from abroad.

Aside from Sola's 40-year-old Brazilian manufacturing facility for polycarbonate sun lenses, which it inherited from its merger with that company in 2006, CZV owns 11 labs in the country. It has closed down 11 of them since the merger. CZV also works 17 independent labs in Brazil, one of which has free-form equipment.