A local criollo worker from Venezuela harvesting tonka beans for Givaudan’s sustainable development program.
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Green issue 10/28/2008

Despite the increasing demand by consumers for beauty products with natural and organic ingredients, fragrance suppliers continue to weigh the viability of fine fragrances with high concentrations of organic ingredients.

This story first appeared in the October 28, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fine fragrances are far more challenging to make organic, industry insiders said, compared with personal care products like hair care, skin care and other cosmetics, and suppliers have embarked on a more systematic approach of taking on the logistical challenges of sourcing and creating organic scents.

“We have been challenged to come up with all natural absolutes, [but] organic solvents are not as commercially available,” said Michel Mane, president of fragrance supplier Mane Americas. Synthetic solvents, which are used in the essential oil extraction process, are more efficient, he said, and as a result, going fully organic would stand to significantly limit the diversity and availability of ingredients for perfumers. He contended that if perfumers’ end-use palettes were limited to organic essential oils, there would only be approximately 50 ingredients available. When synthetic ingredients are added, that number jumps to more than 1,000.

Suppliers said major challenges to creating an organic fragrance include the length of time required to certify a crop as organic, extracting essential oil with an organic solvent and the cost of production and certification of these ingredients.

“It gets very complicated because there are only certain materials that can be used for organic fragrances and it has to come from those sources that have been proven and certified,” said Steph Senior, Givaudan’s head of research and technology for fragrances.

Several oil houses, including Givaudan and Symrise, have also been getting more requests from clients to create water-based, nonalcoholic fragrances. However, these water-based fragrances have a low fragrance level and don’t have the same long-lasting staying power as alcohol-based fragrances. According to David O’Halloran, Givaudan’s director of applications and technology in fine fragrance, the company is working on a program to improve the impact of the fragrance with its water-based system.

“It’s about giving it longer wear and having the same perception for strength as a hydro-alcoholic, but at a much higher concentration,” said O’Halloran.

In addition to Givaudan and Mane, executives from major oil houses like International Flavors & Fragrances, Firmenich and Symrise agreed there has been an increasing demand from clients to create organic and natural scents, but they question consumers’ readiness for organic fine fragrances.

People are aware of this [demand] gap in the marketplace, but there needs to be a total rethink in terms of how [fine fragrance] is positioned,” said Matt Frost, global marketing director at IFF. “I question whether the benefit of organic fine fragrance is something that’s really going to drive the market.”

At its naturals facility in Grasse, France, called Laboratoire Monique Rémy, IFF is testing crops that can be grown organically. Some existing organic molecules at IFF include lavender, rosemary, juniper and cypress. Frost added that the company is also working on developing an organic rose molecule.

Doreen Bucher, senior director of marketing for fine fragrance at Symrise, said she has seen more consumer interest in green personal care products rather than in fine fragrances.

Kate Greene, director of marketing at Givaudan, suggested that more central to the green movement may be “earth-friendly, biodegradable materials. I don’t feel organic [ingredients are] as easy to use,” she said, “because of all the challenges associated with it taking so long to grow something that’s organic.”

“Using biodegradable ingredients helps sustain the environment — it’s not about being 100 percent natural, but looking at ingredients as a whole — from how it is sourced, how it’s made and what happens when it goes down the drain,” said Bucher, who noted that Symrise works with a palette of more than 400 biodegradable molecules.

Dara Quinlan, Firmenich’s vice president of fine fragrance development in North America, noted the firm is expanding its natural and organic ingredients portfolio. “We have a more holistic approach that involves environmental, social and economic concerns,” she said. “As a company, we’re not looking to find 100 percent organic fragrance because it won’t have the same kind of performance as a regular fragrance and it’s not what the consumer is looking for.”