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Unilever and Fragrance: Emotion and Function

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

page 8 of 9

“The GDP of emerging and developing countries, measured in [purchase power parity] terms, is set to overtake that of advanced economies in 2013,” notes a 2009 Euromonitor report. Of these markets, China and India are expected to be the largest, accounting for a combined 20.3% of world GDP in purchase power parity terms in three years. “Their ability to sustain growth during this [recent economic] crisis puts them in a better position to catch up with the developed world,” the report explains.

Bartoletti notes that these markets will shape the future of the world, a reality that is reflected in Unilever’s current activities. The company is pursuing opportunities in each region based on the cultural realities, in addition to consumer understanding, insights and forecasts. While Unilever brings its own global network to bear on emerging market opportunities, Bartoletti says, “fragrance houses are our partners in this journey. They have a role in making sure we stay the leader.” She adds, “‘Good’ fragrance doesn’t mean anything. If it is not the fragrance that is ultimately growing our products and perfectly fits the consumer aspiration and idea of the brand—and makes a difference on the market—it doesn’t mean anything. We’re not winning with good fragrances; we’re winning with extraordinary fragrances.”

As with developed markets, olfactive heritage is key. Right now, Bartoletti notes, the Brazilian market consumes significant amounts of fine fragrance, rivaling the US market. As a result, she says, those consumers are well-versed on scent and have developed very specific tastes. “You cannot just go there with a ‘nice’ fragrance and expect that it will ultimately be successful,” Bartoletti notes. “It is very demanding and sophisticated—they know a lot about what is happening on the fine fragrance market.”

Other regions tell a different story. The Indian market generally has an appreciation for fragrances dominated by oriental notes. “They are very sophisticated,” says Bartoletti, “Very warm, very rich and heavy. You have to bear that in mind.” Meanwhile, she says, the culture, habits and the opportunities in China are completely different. “There is less of a heritage of consumer fragrance there to go on, but there is an enormous curiosity and appetite for fragrance and some very specific preferences that you need to be aware of and be able to articulate.” “There are lots of challenges,” Esser concedes. “It’s all about the consumer. It’s all about the culture, where the consumer stands in the olfactive map.” It also depends on product category—soap, deodorant, skin care, shampoo or detergent powder— and the usage habits consumers engage in. “In India, for example, we know there is lots of hand washing, compared to machine washing,” Esser says. “Then there are the conditions we need to look at. Is it humid? Is it high-temperature? Does the product have to be stable against bacterial growth?

Formulation challenges are rife. Esser notes that fragranced products in developing markets may be highly functional, incorporating a base with a strong odor. In addition, programs such as REACH have led to the scaling back of perfumer palettes. And last, but not least, is cost. “Cost is very important in view of the different markets,” says Esser. “Because we [Unilever] have global scale, we can offset costs.” This becomes easier the more widely a product is launched.