French cement prices have a tradition of being among the highest in Europe, if not the highest. Now at in excess of €100/t, the prices seem to take little account of the falling demand and, in fact, prices have risen by almost €10/t over the past two years, while national consumption has fallen by some 20 per cent over the same period. In some border areas, ready-mixed concrete deliveries have for some time been ordered from batching plants in, for example Belgium or Germany.
As the price differential has grown, the area which the ready-mixed concrete lorries will travel for supplies has widened. With prices holding up so well, competition is taking a new angle. A few independent importers have now set up shop, some are still going, others have been bought out by one of the major producers present in France. For instance, Lafarge acquired Cap Vracs’ grinding centre at Dunkirk more or less as soon as it was commissioned. On the other hand, Cap Vracs now has a similar a grinding centre at Fos, near Marseille. Fos is also the home of Ecocem France. The Irish-based ground granulated slag producer Ecocem set up in the Mediterranean port in 2009, with steel producer Arcelor as a 30% minority shareholder. When fully operational, the annual output of that works should be 0.7Mta, larger than Ecocem’s existing operations in the Netherlands and in Ireland.
There are sea-borne imports through the ports of Marseille, Nantes, Bordeaux and Lorient. Titan has an import business centred on its terminal in Marseille, with similar operations in England and Italy. The Nantes terminal belongs to a local trader, whose origins lie in the agricultural field and the Bordeaux terminal belongs to a Spanish cement group. Privately-owned Cemwest started operations at Lorient in 2007 and in its first full year of operation handled 44,170t of cement, all coming from Turkey.