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Firmenich Freshens its Naturals Business

The Swiss flavors and fragrances supplier is ramping up its activity in naturals.

PARIS — Firmenich is ramping up its activity in naturals, among the hottest segments in today’s beauty industry.


“We have always had very talented people sublimating nature, but now we are turning this around and we’re using all this expertise to get the most out of naturals,” said Boet Brinkgreve, vice president of naturals business unit at the Swiss flavors and fragrances supplier. He added the idea is to work with local partners — including direct involvement at the farmers’ level — in a long-term, sustainable way.


In 2009, Firmenich established the business unit focusing on naturals, whose catalogue includes 550 ingredients from all families. Of those, 250 are for perfumery, 200 for flavors and 100 can be used in both categories. The company aims to introduce 25 new natural raw materials yearly. Its site in Tourrettes-sur-Var, France, from which Brinkgreve was speaking about 45 minutes from Grasse, is one of the locales where the company works with local farmers. There, it processes plants like rose de mai, which is softly extracted, giving what Dominique Roques, Firmenich’s director of purchasing and product management, naturals, called “the finest smell that you can get from the rose.” Other plants treated at the site include violet leaves, fern needles, pine needles and mimosa.


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Firmenich is gradually working on developing a network of such locations, including on-site distillation and extraction, which are to be sources of natural products from around the world. It already has activities in Guatemala, Egypt, Uganda, India, Madagascar, Indonesia and China, for instance.


“We absolutely need to be rooted in a series of countries and various regions of the world,” said Roques, who explained that to do that, partnerships are key. “Each time it’s with the idea of working with some people locally, working in a sustainable way.


“They are not very large sites,” he added, explaining sometimes they may involve just eight or 10 people.


“Only when you are committed to being close to the source do you get this quality,” said Brinkgreve. “We really look into stable quality, stable quantity and being price competitive.” Among plans for the site in Tourrettes-sur-Var is that it becomes carbon — and waste — neutral. Firmenich’s work in the naturals arena stretches back to 1988, when it acquired InterCit, a citrus processing unit in the U.S. Then in 1995, the supplier became involved with natural extracts for perfumery with the development of Pink Pepper CO2 extraction. Today, the company transforms more than 200 million euros, or $277.3 million, worth of biomass yearly.


Ten percent of Firmenich’s revenues have been invested in research and development yearly on a consistent basis for the past 116 years. For naturals processing, the company mixes conventional and new technologies.


“So we bring this game to the next generation, to the next level,” said Brinkgreve.