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Sustainable Scents

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: August 26, 2008, from the September 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

Our business is very simple: take [a botanical] at the right moment and put it in a form which is available to the perfumer the rest of the year,” says Bernard Toulemonde, general manager of International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) subsidiary and naturals expert Laboratoire Monique Rémy (LMR). “Now you know everything,” he jokes.

For almost 25 years, this small Grasse, France-based naturals boutique has produced essential oils, absolutes and other materials for the flavor and fragrance industry (IFF purchased the company in 2000.) Toulemonde and two top IFF perfumers—Clement Gavarry, winner of the 2006 Rising Star Award for fragrance, and Sophie Labbé, the first woman to win the François Coty prize for best creator of perfumes—hosted a rare guided tour of the facility.

Gathering Global Scents

In an age of shrinking differentiation among fragrances, new materials—whether new fractions of existing materials or all new materials from previously unexploited botanicals—are key to giving fragrance companies a technological and creative edge. And no category is booming more than naturals. This is the business of LMR.

During the tour, Toulemonde repeatedly returns to the theme of environmental and corporate responsibility: “We make sure we can cultivate [our raw materials] in a sustainable way while maintaining the integrity of the planet, and taking care of the people cultivating it—the farmers.” While a number of key raw materials, including jasmine and rose, were once sourced in France, increased urbanization in the country and skyrocketing raw material demands mean that botanical production now originates from all around the Mediterranean basin and beyond: rose and orange tree in Morocco, orange tree in Tunisia, rose in Turkey and Bulgaria (the climate of the Black Sea is very close to the climate of the Mediterranean basin), jasmine in Egypt and tuberose in India. With such widespread production and the materials’ inherent fragility, logistics are key to producing high-quality naturals.

“We are treating materials that are very unstable after just a few hours,” says Toulemonde. “Very obviously, the first extraction we do of this material has to be where the flowers are grown.” When materials do arrive directly to the IFF facility, the company performs an extraction using an organic solvent such as hexane to yield the plant’s scent and waxes, which contain key protective antioxidants. All of the solvent is then removed and reutilized. Toulemonde is very aware that the uninitiated may be uneasy about something called “hexane” being used in a naturals process. “Hexane is a natural constituent,” he explains. “Nature knows how to deal with hexane. It’s not an artificial molecule created by man.”