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“The perfume industry is not in great shape,” said Chandler Burr, author and New York Times scent critic, at the International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT) meeting in September 2009. Under the current economic climate, this is by no means surprising. But is the economy the only reason? Has perfume lost its appeal? Is it possible that a multibillion dollar industry with history and heritage dating back to the ancient Egyptians only plays a superficial role in society? Or, perhaps, was perfume suffering quietly before the tough times.
In markets as competitive as the fragrance industry, brand owners must constantly remain one step ahead to retain consumer interest in their brands. Product development occurs at an astonishing pace, as companies vie to be the latest, the trendiest, the most innovative. Though getting to the top is rewarding, this success is also inevitably short-lived. There is a small time frame between the launch of one new product and that of a competitor’s even newer product, with an average of just two years’ shelf-life for new launches.
If a perfume’s unique selling point is its novelty aspect, there remains nothing special about it once the next new product arrives on the market. “Novelty is cannibalizing the industry,” said Burr. Through proactively marketing theirs as the latest product, fragrance houses are, in fact, failing to stand out. Ironically, this approach contradicts the very point of perfume as an olfactory means of differentiation and identification.
So, what will push a perfume’s sales? Figures show that positioning a fragrance as “new” is no longer enough to guarantee sales. In fact, in the women’s fragrance sector, no new launches made it into 2008’s top 10 best sellers, while sales of celebrity scents flagged. Looking at the current olfactory trends—fruity, edible fruity, new greens, citrus, woody, incense, woody, tobacco, vanilla, chocolate and coffee—consumers like to experience their scents and consume them in a similar way to food, only through a different sensory system. From beneath the packaging, what prevails is the appeal of naturals.