Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Cepasco launches an olfactory rehabilitation kit using spices

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Monday, March 28th 2022 à 15:50 | Read 491 times

Cepasco has been specialising in spices for almost 150 years (photo: F.Dubessy)
Cepasco has been specialising in spices for almost 150 years (photo: F.Dubessy)
FRANCE. Cepasco was founded in 1876 in Algiers by Antoine Espig, of Spanish origin, to import and market saffron grown in Spain throughout North Africa. It continues to market this red gold from Iran and Provence to delicatessens and restaurants. It represents 8% of its turnover. Marketed under the name Spigol (a contraction of Espig and gold) for 120 years, the noble spice blend, composed of 3% saffron and intended to colour and flavour rice-based dishes, particularly paella, remains its trademark. "It belongs to the history of Cepasco as well as to the French culinary heritage," says Delphine Grégoire, the company's marketing and development director. From Algeria, it was then exported to Morocco, Tunisia, Spain and France.

In 1962, Établissements Espig first moved to Marseille and became Centrale des Épices Assaisonnement et Condiments (Cepasco). Then, in 1992, the company moved to Gémenos, near Aubagne. After almost a century and a half of existence, the company has never denied its Mediterranean DNA. Its managing director, Bertrand Cosse, claims "a 45% market share for spices in the ethnic grocery channel (editor's note: kosher, halal and Asian supermarkets) compared to 4% in mass distribution.

2,500 tonnes of spices processed per year

Soizic Chauvel, who is in charge of purchasing, receives around 150 containers a year from all over the world with its 2,500 tonnes of processed spices, which her operators sift, sieve, clean, calibrate, grind and package at a rate of 25 million bags (from 20 grams to one kilogram) a year. "In Morocco, we buy coriander, hot pepper, mint, verbena, rosebuds, etc.," she says. Golden sesame and fennel come from Egypt. Laurel, cumin, chilli and oregano come from Turkey. "We don't source Mediterranean products from other regions, because the growing areas don't exist elsewhere," says the purchasing manager. In fact, the company does not ship much to the Mediterranean region.

After five generations, the family is no longer in charge. Two funds now own the company: the Swiss Evoco (57% of the capital) and the French BNP Paribas Développement (23%). The Cepasco group (75 employees) consists of three companies. The first is Cepasco-Spigol, based in Gémenos, which specialises in spices, herbs and aromatics. In 2011 it achieved a turnover of €24.5 million with 1,500 references. The second, Dulfrance (€3.5m turnover), based in Lézennes, near Lille, offers dehydrated soups and sauce bases. Finally, Flavori (€2.2m turnover) was acquired a year ago and sells spices in Belgium. "We are always on the lookout for external growth, but only in our core business," says Bertrand Cosse.

Production activity remains seasonal with peaks before Ramadan (2 April to 2 May in 2022), Passover (Pessa'h 16 April to 23 April 2022) or Chinese New Year (1 February 2022). Traditional grocery shops (Espig brands) account for 39% in volume and value, supermarket shelves for 19% (16% under the Spigol, La Planète des Épices and Epicé Tout! brands for organic products and 3% under private labels). Restaurant professionals (Antoine Espig and Maison Espig brands for organic) contribute 26% of the result and industrialists 5%. Exports represent 11% of the turnover.

"The French have started cooking again"

The (re)smell kit helps to re-educate people to taste and smell (photo: Cepasco/Robert Poulain)
The (re)smell kit helps to re-educate people to taste and smell (photo: Cepasco/Robert Poulain)
"Consumers want to eat healthier and are increasingly replacing salt with spices," says Delphine Grégoire.
The aromas of the Provençal triturator have also enabled it to weather the economic crisis, a consequence of the pandemic, rather well. And if the company has had to face logistical problems, its general manager notes with a smile that "the plants have continued to grow.

"We are in a market that is growing. However, we have seen an acceleration with the confinements due to Covid because the French have started cooking again," says Bertrand Cosse with satisfaction. The spice market grew by 10% (compared to the usual 1-2%) during this period and Cepasco outperformed by some 20%. The current conflict in the Ukraine is not "in a natural spice production area", as the managing director points out, so it has no impact on production.

While the company's results have not suffered from Covid-19, some of its employees have. Two managers in particular have lost their sense of smell and taste, which is quite an achievement in a company specialising in spices. Informal discussions on this subject with the Assistance publique des hôpitaux de Marseille (APHM) led Cepasco to launch an olfactory rehabilitation kit using spices (see photo above) to help people suffering from anosmia (loss of smell) and/or taste (agueusia), two very frequent symptoms of the coronavirus. The kit was developed with the support of Emmanuelle Albert, a speech therapist and trainer, and Professor Justin Michel, head of the ENT and cervico-facial surgery department at the Conception Hospital in Marseille, and consists of glass vials, spices and a small exercise book. It has been on sale since 15 March 2022.

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