The town of Vic in Catalonia is the unofficial capital of the Spanish tanning industry and is home to most of the country’s leading sheepskin tanners and a number of footwear upper manufacturers. The oldest and probably most famous name connected with the town is Colomer y Munmany, part of the Colomer Group, who have been located in the heart of Vic since 1792.

The tannery is now part of the larger Colomer Group that is a pan-European operation with businesses ranging from slaughterhouses and fellmongeries through to finished leather tanneries. A full list of companies and their annual processing figures is given in Table 1. ‘In leather industry terms, we are a large company and we control nearly 17 million sheepskins which are slaughtered across Europe’, says Jaime Alvira, ceo, Colomer Group. ‘Many people think of us as a finished leather tanning group but most of our activities are in the sale and production of raw and semi-processed skins.’

The original Colomer y Munmany tannery was very old and it made the possibility of expansion and environmental control more difficult. Therefore, the company decided to relocate the retanning, finishing plants and offices across the town, to a disused tannery building formerly known as Can Bauman. Subsequently, the group have invested €12 million relocating the tannery and refurbishing the Bauman site into a modern tannery. The new 13,000m2 (floor space) tannery has been equipped with all the latest tannery equipment and labour saving workflow systems to make the plant as automated and efficient as possible.

The move began at the end of 2001 and the entire production had transferred by December 2002. The final stages of the tannery refurbishment are due to be completed this month.

Beamhouse and waste treatment

The new factory is located close to the beamhouse and fellmongery in Vic, which used to serve the old tannery. The wet-end operations are carried out approximately 1km across the town from the new tannery. Both sites share the same effluent treatment plant, which is located on the older site. The new treatment plant features a new 6 million cubic litre aeration tank and approximately 30% of the water used in both plants is recycled. Colomer hope to increase the amount of recycled water to 50% in the future. Following treatment at Colomer the water is then transferred to community effluent plant in Vic where it is further treated. Investments on the new plant have cost Colomer around €200,000.

Also located at the fellmongery site is a huge warehouse which stores dried and wet salted skins, pickled and wet-blue pelts and some salted hides. The vast warehouse is able to store just ten days production for the factory and further warehouses are located throughout Colomer’s operations in Spain and across Europe to serve the groups needs.

Controlling raw material supply

In recent times it has been the aim of the company to control the supply of raw materials, particularly sheepskins, entering the leather industry. Over the past two decades, the company have embarked on a number of acquisitions of slaughterhouses, hide and skin markets and fellmongeries across southern and western Europe. They now annually control 16.6 million skins across Spain, France, Greece, Italy and the UK.

From the total, 11.4 million are processed in the group’s fellmongeries and a full breakdown of each company’s figures is given in Table 1. Of the total number of skins fellmongered, approximately 3.5 million are processed through to finished nappa or doubleface leather with the remaining 7.85 million processed and sold as wet-blue.

‘By having a large stake in the raw skin market we can have more control on price and quality’, says Alvira. ‘Our next step is to have a greater control on the raw hide market as we are becoming more and more involved in this area.’

Although Colomer have not been able to influence how the farmer treats each hide or skin on the live animal they have been trying to improve flaying techniques and mechanical pelt stripping inside the meat plants. ‘We are working very closely with the slaughterhouses to improve quality’, says José-Angel Martin-B, general manager, Colomer y Munmany.

‘We have installed new machinery to eliminate damage. Each well-flayed skin can be worth three times the price of a poorly stripped skin. If it is damaged our main customers such as Loewe cannot use it and, therefore, will not buy’, he added.

Last year was a difficult time for the company and profits fell. A breakdown of the group finances can be seen in Table 2. Colomer point out a fall in demand in major international markets and the strengthening of the Euro against the Dollar as contributing factors which have made exporting skins more difficult.

Raw material market

Raw material prices have remained stable in the past few months and Colomer have noticed a slight upward trend on selections which are suitable for doubleface. ‘I think the wool-on trend will continue for the next season until raw material prices become too high. We manufacture and supply doubleface, nappa, wet salted and wet-blue selections, which allows us to avoid dips in sub-sectors. I believe that those companies specialising nappa selections will be having a tough year’, Jaime Alvira said. Colomer confirmed that the past two seasons had seen a fall in demand for nappa skins and demand for doubleface was good although not spectacular.

‘The reason for demand of Spanish raw skins is due to a unique balance of grain and wool fineness. ‘We have the best skins in the world’, says José-Angel Martin-B. ‘The grain break is very good for nappa and the density of wool on Spanish Merino and Entrefino breeds provide good doubleface leathers especially on younger animals. Other types such as UK domestics provide better wool.’