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Materials: The Scent of a Winner

Steve Tanner

There has never been more interest in fragrances, fragrance design and fragrance ingredients. This is good for fragrance houses, and it’s good for marketers, too. Any company looking to enhance consumer relationships and create brand loyalty can tap into a sophisticated, creative resource of global firms and rapidly growing U.S. fragrance houses to create just the right scent. That’s always been the major attraction of our industry. But today, we are doing that—and a lot more—for our clients.

At some firms, marketing planning, trend analysis and product design capabilities have been dramatically expanded—giving clients a tremendous competitive advantage. Across the board, there’s a much greater appreciation for the role fragrance plays in brand strategy. And the leading fragrance companies are perfectly positioned to help companies achieve corporate goals in critical areas, including sustainability, product safety and regulatory affairs.

Perfumers will always be the stars of the fragrance industry. But today, marketing planners, sourcing specialists and ingredient buyers, application and quality control scientists, and regulatory experts—who respond to a global onslaught of constantly changing rules and requirements—work right alongside our creative artists.

Creativity, Sustainability and Safety

This segment is built on creativity and innovation. A new celebrity or fashion fragrance is a big occasion, and a new, naturally sourced fragrance in a favorite skin care regimen will always capture the consumer’s imagination. Even after some consolidation in the perfume industry, fragrance houses today are busier than ever. Personal care companies have never had so many quality fragrances performing for their brands, and consumers who buy their products have never had so many beautiful ways to make their lives exciting and fun. Their work connects with consumers hundreds of times a day—and these encounters are growing.

Fragrance is now a major strategic component in a broad selection of everyday products. Apart from soaps and detergents (which have always smelled great), cosmetics, beauty and luxury items (which continue to push the boundaries of fragrance design), even leading hotel brands are discussing their signature fragrances, and major retailers are telling manufacturers what fragrances they want to see in products destined for their shelves.

In our evolving world, fragrance creativity and innovation is no longer the sole province of global firms. Industry giants still create spectacular new molecules, but other firms are seeing client rosters expand and creative assignments grow with unique fragrance strategies developed for major corporate clients and major brands. And these firms are experiencing an extremely stimulating, productive climate.

In the U.S., for example, membership and participation in the Fragrance Materials Association allows fragrance companies to play a key role in helping clients to protect the integrity of their products and develop more sustainable product platforms. In fact, fragrance leaders are proactively engaged in these efforts.

As an industry, we no longer use ingredients such as musk and civet from living creatures, or precious woods from endangered species. Nature-identical and creative man-made molecules are widely available that not only work better as fragrance ingredients, but also perform better in complex product formulations. Buyers and sourcing specialists are actively involved in protecting the plants and crops that provide so many of our ingredients, and they are working to make sure sustainable plantation cultures are encouraged in developing countries and fair trade practices are respected.

Because of the number of ingredients typically used in fragrance formulas, suppliers are closer to global supply sources than many of their clients, and suppliers’ positive involvement and influence in global sourcing is critical to their clients’ sustainability programs.

Fragrance Challenges

No industry is static, and the fragrance industry is changing like many others. Currently, there is focus on protecting intellectual property from regulatory initiatives in some U.S. states that would require full disclosure of the fragrance formulas and trade secrets of clients. Despite gas chromatography, which seeks to identify molecules in a formulation, a precise ingredient listing is a highly valuable trade secret. No marketer can afford to share these secrets that drive their success.

For perfumers, there is also concern about the issue of palette reduction—the potential elimination of key fragrance ingredients, again in response to regulatory pressure, notably in the European Union, which has banned fragrance ingredients. Bans often seem to have no basis in valid scientific research. For example, some ingredients in fragrance formulations are used in very small concentrations, say, one part in a billion, which in scientific terms means “virtually undetectable.” In terms for those without scientific backgrounds, that’s the equivalent of one inch in 15,782 miles. But if legislators see a given ingredient as a risk, a valuable ingredient that has served the industry safely and effectively for years may be lost. This hurts perfumery.

Clarity in “Green”

In product development, the most exciting trend during the past five years has been the tremendous growth of natural and organic products. Today’s fragrances must be designed to support these new product platforms. Natural fruit fragrances, for example, are based on ingredients that use the whole fruit—seeds, leaves and stems included. New carbon dioxide-based extraction processes for the production of essences and ingredients is a further boon to these development practices. Totally inert, these processes avoid the use of alcohol or petroleum-based solvents and make organic platforms more complete and more sustainable.

Some clients and compliance officers—and some consumers—are seeking greater clarity about the precise meaning of “green,” “natural” and “organic.” In fragrance materials, natural and organic can be definitively articulated, and subtle differences in processing can be authenticated and certified. But “green” is a marketing term, not a scientific one.

Some marketers assume fragrance is merely a fragrance industry concern. But the regulatory and legislative pressures on this industry are global and real. Since we work together in this business and our creative innovations are combined in the same brands, we must address these issues together.

Steve Tanner is the president of Arylessence, and serves on the boards of the Fragrance Materials Association (FMA) and the Consumer Specialty Products Assocation (CSPA). He is an industry voice on behalf of the safety and quality of fragrance ingredients. A business graduate of Georgia State University, he served in the United States Army and resigned with the rank of Captain, earning the Bronze Star for Valor. Prior to joining Arylessence, he held senior operational and logistics positions with Airborne and Trailways, where he was director of operations for the Eastern U.S.

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Five Ways to Work Best with Your Fragrance Partner

1. Make fragrance management a priority in your company. When your fragrance partner understands your brand and product goals—as well as the role fragrance plays in each brand—you will improve development time, streamline decision-making, and create fragrances that fit perfectly and capture the hearts of consumers.

2. Define fragrance signatures for your brands. Ask your fragrance partner to help you develop definitive fragrance signatures for your brands. These core fragrance ideas reflect the special character of your brand and cement your emotional connection with the consumer. They also give you the flexibility to balance each product fragrance individually, making sure each scent performs successfully in product variants.

3. Always ask what your perfumers think. The best perfumers know more about fragrance than the rest of us. Based on their experience and individual styles, they can create solutions you never considered. Their insights will help you achieve distinctive, winning fragrances that are totally competitive and unique. And yes, perfumers have thousands of wonderful fragrance ideas that simply haven’t been invented—yet.

4. Test your fragrances as finished concepts. Ask your fragrance company to test your fragrances as products, not as blind perfumes. Show consumers your packaging, the colors of your brand and share brand messaging. Fragrances that capture your brand best are the ones you want performing in the marketplace.

5. Integrate fragrance into your product safety platform. Fragrance isn’t a separate component; it lives inside your product. Regulators today make no distinction between your product formulation and your fragrance. Your fragrance partner must assure you that your fragrances are safe and conform to IFRA guidelines. Only member organizations of FMA, IFRA and RIFM can provide this assurance.

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