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Unilever and Fragrance: Emotion and Function

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, with Rachel Grabenhofer
Posted: May 13, 2010

Originally printed in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine, April 2010.

Unilever encompasses 400 brands—including Dove, Omo, Surf, Suave, Lux and Axe—spanning 14 categories of home, personal and oral care, and food products sold in more than 200 countries. Powered by 174,000 employees in 100 countries, the company achieved 2008 revenues of more than e40.5 billion and invested nearly e1 billion in R&D activities spread across five lab sites around the world. Leveraging its international scope and local insights, the company is a consumer product leader with a keen interest in the power of fragrance.

“Fragrance is an enormously powerful driver of consumer choice,” says Marcella Bartoletti, fragrance director for Unilever. “Our sense of smell triggers such strong emotions, and scent memory can be more evocative and longer-lasting than sight—that’s why I’m so intrigued by fragrance.” Isabelle Esser, Unilever’s vice president of fragrance capability, agrees. “Fragrance is so important for the initial [product choice], but also for consumer loyalty,” she says. “You could have a wonderful product that is good at what has to be done, but if the fragrance isn’t right, the consumer will walk away. I’ve been an R&D professional for years and years and I’ve never found another [product facet] that had such an impact on loyalty.”

Bartoletti gained her appreciation for the power of scent over the last decade, during which she held positions in R&D product and process development, and technical consumer insight for home and personal care categories. Since 2004, she has focused on bringing an increasingly coordinated, structured and universally applied approach to fragrance development for all of Unilever’s scented product categories with the aim of fully realizing each’s olfactive potential.

“Unilever has long placed great importance on getting the fragrances right for its brands,” says Bartoletti. “But we didn’t always leverage our extensive experience and size as well as we could have.” That has changed over the past six years.