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Scent Sleuth: Do Cultural Preferences Influence Fragrance Development?

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In France, the floral notes of jasmine, rose, muguet, sage and lavender will always appeal, but scents finding success capture all the wonderful components of an expanding palette. Perfumers travel to exotic rain forests in Brazil or the mountainsides of India seeking unique scents to capture for their new creations. Exotic spices, herbs and fruits are intertwined with flowery extracts to create the next trend, and new specialty products are emerging as global fragrance players expand their manufacturing to China, India, South America and Russia.

Essential oil houses, too, often produce specialty products specific to a region. Coordinating worldwide formulas has always presented a challenge to provide standards. Often times, the same product will smell or taste differently from one country to another. Some of this difference may be due to certain restrictions of raw materials, but sometimes it is purposefully done to appeal to consumer tastes.

The name of the game with global fragrance oil companies is consumer research, which is why the major players such as IFF, Firmenich, Quest, Symrise and Givaudan have set up research centers to help multinational marketers. IFF recently completed its research on the “five faces of China” to help understand which products suit the various regions of China. Colgate and Givaudan have partnered to apply global expertise to sensory understanding in order to tailor products for success in particular markets. And Firmenich opened an R&D center in Shanghai to explore and discover new ingredients and scents specific to the Asian market.

Research may reveal regional preferences that are seeds for future global trends. India, for example, has a huge market for functional toiletries that deliver fragrance. In Latin America, the use of toiletries is on the rise—particularly in Brazil where O Boticario has a strong presence comparable to Bath & Body Works—and the preferences and options there may be a prime place to explore exportable trends.

Further, as U.S. consumption contracts, more innovations will occur elsewhere, utilizing indigenous talents and materials. With areas of growth potential shifting and as mature markets slow, marketers and fragrance houses must understand, capture and capitalize on the preferences of consumers worldwide.