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The Real Appeal of Naturals

Giles Bovill
  • Positioning a fragrance as “new” is no longer enough to guarantee sales.
  • Consumers like to experience their scents and consume them in a similar way to food.
  • Consumers perceive developments within the food industry to have set the standard for natural ingredients in other industries.
  • Consumers are demanding even more information on their preferred brands.
  • With an awareness of the story behind an ingredient, consumers can identify with what they have in front of them.

“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.

Fruitful Marketing

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.

Propensity Toward Purity

To consumers, perfume is both a statement (an expression of self) and something to be consumed and savored, positioning the fragrance industry somewhere between fashion and food. With the food industry as a parallel analogy, the proof is in the pudding. A poor quality dish will be shunned instantly, regardless of its presentation or the celebrity of its chef. Equally, a well-prepared dish made of the finest ingredients will satisfy without the need for excessive trimmings. Quality cannot be feigned and will never go out of fashion. The same applies to perfumes.

Natural ingredients are perceived by consumers as quality ingredients and as “better for you.” The greater the percentage of natural ingredients within a product, the more reassured the consumer tends to feel. Consumers perceive that developments within the food industry have set the standard for natural ingredients in other industries. In addition to health and well-being, global issues such as the environment and ethics are prominent in consumers’ minds, and now contribute significantly to the purchasing decision. Not only are ingredients by law wholly disclosed, consumers also expect to know the origins of foodstuffs. Organic and fair-trade markets have proven their potential, and consumers are now well educated on growing, traceability and trading conditions. In fact, consumers are demanding even more information on their preferred brands. To wit, there has been an increased interest in documentaries about the source of some of favorite food items, such as coffee and chocolate.

The trend for naturals lends itself logically to the perfume industry, as consumers discover the benefits of sustainable living and are charmed by the idea of purity. The lead taken by food manufacturers some years ago has created ample leverage for perfume houses to follow suit.

Accountability and Endearment

Uncovering the source of a particular component shows a manufacturer to be open, accountable and responsible. More importantly, the emphasis is brought back to the essentials—the quality and inherent characteristics of the raw materials themselves. Naturals are a product of the world’s resources. The possibilities for new and exciting formulations are endless, and Mother Nature never ceases to amaze. It is also something everyone experiences every day, without exception. If this dimension of a product is presented to consumers, it is almost guaranteed to resonate.

With an awareness of the story behind an ingredient, consumers can identify with what they have in front of them. An appreciation of the provenance of naturals adds to the allure already associated with a beautiful scent. And proclaiming the journey from crop to counter can strengthen consumer affinity to a product. Take ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata), for instance. Consumers will readily identify the rich, deep and sensuous character of this oil. They may also be interested to know that the flowers are distilled after careful selection and cultivation by the farmers. In addition, the peace of mind gained from the fact that these particular growers are protected under fair-trade conditions and receive a premium price for their product endears users and instills consumer loyalty to a brand, leading to repeat purchases.

Moving Forward

Sharing the provenance of ingredients takes consumers behind the scenes, allowing for a deeper level of appreciation. As the current financial situation forces consumers to reassess their buying behavior, they may buy less but more selectively, paying better attention to quality. Suddenly, consumers take less for granted, and the attention is drawn to immaterial well-being, such as home comforts and natural surroundings. This shift in consciousness directly alters shoppers’ demands, which now turns to quality, organic and fairly traded natural ingredients. Some pioneers within the beauty industry foresaw these demands and have led the way. Others now follow.

So, are consumers really leaving home without their signature scents? Perfume remains highly desirable, despite financial constraints. Fragrance houses may be wise to fully laud the beauty of their products’ natural ingredients, focusing on the essence of the essence—the raw materials. Perfumery is an art that will continue to delight, using the world’s odiferous substances as its pantry. By focusing on the virtues and provenance of the ingredients themselves, perfumers can create noteworthy scents that resonate with consumers and are destined to endure the latest trends.

Giles Bovill is senior business and group marketing manager for Treatt plc, an independent ingredients supplier to the flavor and fragrance industry.;

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