By  on June 15, 2007

CANNES, France — Sustainability, naturals and organics were among buzzwords during the World Perfumery Congress here earlier this month.

As the fragrance industry responds to the growing green movement, executives speaking at the event said getting a balance between science and nature will be key going forward.

"The world business community is increasingly focused on sustainability," said Sumit Bhasin, director of global research, development and innovation at P&G Prestige Products. "Trying to operate with an environmentally sustainable approach is adding great complexity to any business decision."

In the future, a mix of natural and chemical ingredients will be essential, according to Bhasin.

"The industry started with naturals, then by the end of the 19th century had created thousands of synthetic components," he said. "A combination of companies [that work] with rose oil, jasmine and sandalwood, and then companies [that work] with novel synthetic ingredients are going to help reinvent this industry."

"[The green] movement is going to stay, we all have a lot to do," said Camille McDonald, executive vice president of brand development and merchandising at Bath & Body Works. "But the information is contradictory. What is unequivocal is that the consumer loves the concept as long as she doesn't have to pay more and as long as she gets the same performance from a product at the same price. So far we have not found the foolproof way to give her both."

McDonald added sustainable resources will also be a hot topic going forward. Indeed, a number of suppliers were already keen to highlight their activities in that domain.

International Flavors & Fragrances, for example, organized a tour of its Laboratoire Monique Rémy, in Grasse, France, which produces natural raw materials like the patchouli used in Cacharel's latest scent Liberté and the mandarin used in Armani Code.

"Over the years we strayed too far from naturals," said Nicolas Mirzayantz, group president of fragrances at IFF.

During the congress, Givaudan announced a recent partnership with Conservation International, a nongovernmental organization, to protect tonka beans in Venezuela. As part of the deal, Givaudan will purchase beans that are farmed in a sustainable manner."When business interests meet sustainability, it's a win-win situation," said Gilles Andrier, the firm's chief executive officer.

Other projects are also in the works, including one concerning the cultivation of sandalwood.

"Our planet is under threat," said Andrier. "Givaudan is working toward fair trade practices and to make sure our natural resources are sustainable."

Dr. Paul Biggs, general manager of Western Australia's Forest Products Commission, described a sandalwood conservation project, which has acquired 22,000 hectares of land in Australia for sustainable sandalwood production. Revenues will go back to fund management of the land.

The organic ingredients business is also going from strength to strength, according to executives.

Dominique Courtière, founder and president of Biolandes, said the emergence of organic ingredients highlights consumer expectations for authenticity, traceability and sustainability.

"Over the last five years, the organic offer has grown so now 75 percent of essential oils contain organic extracts," he said. "You can find organic lavender in products from washing powder to shower gel."

Such growth looks set to continue. Producers in the Grasse region are working toward achieving organic certification by 2009 and are inviting suppliers to form fair trade partnerships with their newly created association The Extraordinary Flowers of Grasse.

Carole Biancalana, who is one of the third generation of producers at Domaine Manon rose and jasmine plantation, said while organic yields are around 2 to 2.5 tons per hectare compared with 3 to 4 tons for traditional crops, the benefits of environmentally friendly farming methods are manifold.

"We need more time and more manpower for organic cultivation," she said. "But we are determined to protect, valorize and promote our industry for the future."

Jean Mane, president of Mane, said the industry will fight to keep natural essential oils from being restricted in fragrance use, lamenting the limits on the use of citrus oils under European regulations.

"Perfumers are being challenged to create hypoallergenic fragrances," he said pointing out that tree moss and other natural ingredients are considered allergenic substances.

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