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Fragrance Foundation Plots Consumer Involvement

Firmenich's Jerry Vittoria talks social media, home fragrance and scent beads, as well as the category’s need for more innovation.

The Fragrance Foundation may have gotten its glam back — but there’s still more work to be done if one asks chairman Jerry Vittoria and outgoing president Elizabeth Musmanno.

While the foundation has made progress — increasing total income by 25 percent in the last five years and pulling in $2 million from the 2017 awards ceremony — the fragrance category itself is still growing slowly.

“Something needs to give,” said Musmanno. “There’s a big one percent growth rate, but that’s coming through increased price of the product, not through increased number of product sold.”

Vittoria ticked off more training for fragrance counter associates, innovation in terms of delivery systems, improvement in the overlap of fragrance and social media and, most importantly, putting the consumer first as potential category jump-starters.

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That mind-set, highlighted by the Fragrance Foundation’s Consumer Insights Conference, is culminating with more consumer choice awards at the annual Fragrance Foundation Awards.

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“This year, you’ll see a lot more awards will be consumer choice, which allows a much greater voice [to consumers],” Vittoria, president of fine fragrances at Firmenich, said. “That’s an important piece — also looking at how do we do other events to talk to a much broader audience of consumers.”

Musmanno called on retailers to come up with experiential solutions to get customers engaged with the fragrance shopping process. “It’s going to be reliant on the retailers, and whether that involves retailers that are online, new experiences — someone’s got to be thinking about that,” said Musmanno. “The problem right now for fragrance is that you need to smell the fragrance to buy the fragrance. You need to experience it and in order to do that, you need to be in a store. If [fewer] people are in department stores, fragrance is going to be impacted.”

One initiative launched to combat slow fragrance foot traffic is the foundation’s Scent Event with Macy’s, where shoppers walk through the fragrance department and are greeted with perfumer videos, personal appearances and breakdowns of the emotions and materials behind the scents.

“The point wasn’t to get sales right there but to really allow the consumer to [have] all the Instagram moments and social media moments,” Vittoria said, acknowledging fragrance has a harder time picking up social steam than extremely visual categories, like makeup. “The descriptions behind fragrance, the emotion of fragrance — that’s the way to connect to consumers,” he said.

Jerry Vittoria
Jerry Vittoria Joshua Scott/WWD

The event was born under the reign of Musmanno, whom Vittoria credited with helping to revive the organization. “If you don’t create buzz in an association it dies, and we were not creating buzz a few years back,” he said. This year’s Fragrance Foundation Awards are Musmanno’s last — she is stepping down to focus on other projects. “The person who is going to run this in the future, I think will have a lot of experience doing things like this at a company level or a brand level,” Vittoria said.

That person will also be tasked with something the foundation hasn’t really gotten around to yet — innovation.

“The innovation piece is critical,” Vittoria said. “When it comes to fragrance it seems like consumers want to go back to 18th-century perfumery…but there’s great innovation going on in fragrance. Millennials aren’t afraid of technology, they love technology, we’re just not communicating the technology and innovation of fragrance in the correct way.”

Musmanno’s best advice is to learn from the experts — and not just those in fragrance.

“There’s value in learning from people in other industries — how they made, it you know,” said Musmanno, who takes inspiration from the tech world.

Elizabeth Musmanno
Elizabeth Musmanno Joshua Scott/WWD

“There should be new delivery systems,” Vittoria continued, going back to the bottle. “This is one of the few categories that we’re basically applying our fragrance in the same way for as long as anybody can remember.”

He acknowledged rollerballs and Byredo’s new applicator brush, but said that the big fragrance houses tend to avoid meeting with smaller, potentially innovative groups out of fear that they’re mimicking something they are already developing in-house.

“That’s a problem — we need to get these start-ups having a voice among our membership,” Vittoria said. “The last thing we need is things to be looked at by a cheap manufacturer…and done incorrectly and then nobody’s interested.”

One area where Vittoria is seeing innovation is home fragrance, he noted.

“When you see phenomena like this, you realize most people love fragrance, they just may not want to apply it every day,” he said. “There are a lot of different applications to home fragrance that we’re going to see growth,” he added, calling out technology that allows people to use an app to turn on electronic fragrance diffusers before they return home as an example.

“Candles are great and you get home and you light them, but wouldn’t it be great for someone to light it for you a half hour before you get home?” Vittoria said.

Less glamorous but still innovative are scent beads and other laundry-related fragrances, which have evolved, Vittoria noted.

“Consumers are using laundry and even household products in ways today we couldn’t have imagined years ago,” he said. “Companies like P&G and others have found ways of delivering these high-quality products at a premium but affordable price.”

Though it’s too late for Musmanno to implement, she noted she’d toyed with the idea of bringing the consumer packaged goods industry into the foundation’s fold with its own separate awards ceremony.

“These fragrance houses don’t just sell to this [beauty] industry,” said Musmanno. “Their packaged goods division fragrances are a key motivator for [consumers]. How do you pick the soap to wash your clothes? I pick mine — Gain — based on scent. I think that can be a new revenue source.”

“We need to think more about consumers who are omnichannel, who are buying at Target, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s, not just Bloomingdale’s or Saks or Macy’s,” Vittoria said. “Yes, [these products are] near the toilet paper, but we all use that too.”