Essilor sees the market for ophthalmic lenses more than doubling in value over the next 10 years in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. In terms of volume alone, the consumption of lenses is expected to grow from 100 million in 2010 to 140-180 million units, but their added value and their average price is bound to grow faster, thanks to the rising average income of the population.

In a presentation made to financial analysts some time ago, Essilor noted that the total population of Latin America is expected to grow from 585 million to 645 million inhabitants over the 10-year period, and that the number of people earning more than $20,000 a year should increase from 270 million to 340 million.

More than 50 percent of Brazilians already belong to the so-called C class, earning the equivalent of €1,085 to €2,715 per month, according to the latest statistics, and their growing disposable income is raising their demand for better products and for foreign brands in all kinds of sectors. While Brazil accounts for one-third of the total population of the region, the country has come to generate half of Essilor's total sales volume in Latin America, thanks in part to its multi-channel strategy. In addition to Varilux, the company has been marketing a lower-priced line of lenses called Brasilor there for 10 years, expanding it five years ago. However, the average price of the lenses it sells in the country has already reached a level similar to that of Spain.

According to Essilor, only 27 percent of the population in Latin America wears spectacles, but the ratio is likely to grow to between 35 and 40 percent by 2020. Among the future customers, 40 to 45 percent are seen going for anti-reflective coatings, compared with only 22 percent at present. Strong potential also exists for progressive lenses, whose share of purchases is now only 9 percent in Latin America against a global average of 15 percent, and for high-index lenses, which stand at 20 percent of transactions against 49 percent worldwide.

The penetration of ophthalmic lenses has already reached a level of around 35 percent of the population in Brazil, and the share of multifocal lenses in that market is already at 42 percent in volume. The company has developed strong relations with opticians as well as ophthalmologists in the country. It partners with Stepper and other brands of frames to give points to their clients that make them eligible for trips abroad and other prizes.

In one of its most recent actions on the Brazilian market, Essilor has worked with JR Adamver, one of the largest manufacturers of sunglasses in the country, to launch a line of polarized products at accessible prices under its licensed Mormaii brand. Adamver launched last year a line of plano Mormaii Xperio sunglasses at only R$269 (€107-$142) per pair, and it is introducing its RX version next month.

Essilor employs more than 2,500 people throughout Latin America at various offices and facilities, including more than 15 laboratories and factories in Brazil and Mexico. It works with more than 200 laboratories and wholesalers in Brazil and more than 150 others in the rest of the region.

Thanks to Essilor's strong marketing efforts, Varilux has reached an awareness of 88 percent in Brazil. It has also registered awareness ratios of 45 percent for Crizal and 57 percent for Transitions. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Transitions, which Essilor shares with PPG Industries, may have reached a market penetration of 10 percent in Brazil, and that this country stands to become the second-largest market outside the U.S. for the brand this year after the U.K

A Brazilian executive, Tadeu Alves, took charge as president of Essilor for Latin America, based at its regional office in Rio de Janeiro. He had worked for four years as president of Latin America for Merck Sharp & Dohme until 2010, when that company acquired Schering-Plough. At Essilor, Alves replaces a German executive, Thomas Bayer, who is retiring at the age of 68 after 13 years with the French company.