While the pandemic may have curtailed the in-person festivities Mane planned to celebrate its 150th anniversary, it hasn’t slowed down business. The family-owned fragrance and flavor manufacturer posted stellar sales growth in 2021, and is a leader in key areas for the future of fragrance, like sustainability. Here, company president Michel Mane reflects on how the company has harnessed its past to fuel growth — and what he envisions for the future of fragrance.
As you look at 150 years of fragrance development and production — what hasn’t changed and what has?
Michel Mane: What used to be the privilege and true luxury very few could afford in the 1870s has become a multibillion industry that has benefited from science and technologies that make fragrances ubiquitous and affordable to the most modest among us. Yet the fundamentals on which our industry is built remain the same; the design of a fragrance remains a work of art made possible by perfumers and their increasingly diverse palette of ingredients. And from our short-term vision and the errancies of the past few decades, we are now much more conscious of the externalities of our activities and value chains. Our ecosystem services are no longer free and their costs must be internalized when measuring our true industry performance. Investing those costs into new business models and technologies is on the critical path toward decarbonizing our supply chains and the sustainable use of biodiversity.
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Where do you see the most opportunity? And what are the key challenges?
M.M.: When we look at the capabilities we must build upon to implement our long-term strategy, winning the war for talent comes first. What purpose do we provide to our associates to make a difference, add value to our ingredients and fragrance solutions, how do we become the most rewarding place to work? Diversity, equity and inclusion in our decisions, the fair assessment of performance, strengthening internal and external partnerships, caring for one another is the way to win. It’s about going back to the basics our ancestors taught us that have transcended generations. People and ingredients, optimizing the quality and performance of our perfumers’ palette without compromising on diversity.
There is much to innovate in that latter domain, in providing our perfumers with higher odor value molecules inspired by nature or algorithms when using less of them actually means more. While our natural ingredients can benefit from regenerative agriculture and improved harvesting technologies, sustainable ecosystem management is increasingly efficient and benign to our environment extraction capabilities.
What is the next frontier? How might scents look different in 150 years?
M.M.: The transformation of our industry will only accelerate in the next 150 years, regardless of the world we decide to live in, real, virtual or both — as long as we will be gifted with our sense of smell. And even so, today we help perfumers develop techniques to make anosmic people design their own fragrance…for those they love. We want to make people love to be surrounded by fragrances; they will become ubiquitous, with some help from technology.
How difficult has it been to remain independent at a time when so many of your competitors have been gobbled up?
M.M.: Each family-owned and -run business is different. If we are still today an important factor in the fragrance, flavor and ingredients industry, we obviously owe it to our founders, their extended family, customers and providers alike. Unity, strong governance and a fierce attachment to remain independent is the best answer I can give. This being said, we can always do much better, a challenge the fifth generation will take on soon enough not without some guidance and words of wisdom from the fourth generation!
You also have a robust flavors division. How do you see the worlds of fragrance and wellness/health/nutrition increasingly intersecting?
M.M.: Bringing our flavors, fragrance and ingredients leadership teams together from a consumer and R&D perspective has greatly benefited those three pillars. Taste, aroma, scent are deeply interconnected. Flavors and fragrances share a wide palette of ingredients and perfumers learn from flavorists how to use some of the most potent ones. Consumers want to know that what they eat and smell is good for them when consumed within reason. Clean labels, least processed raw materials, natural ingredients-based solutions, ingredients delivering functionality, these mega-trends are strong driving forces that are transforming our business and will continue to do so.
What does it mean to reach this milestone? How is the company celebrating 150 years?
M.M.: Twenty-twenty-one was both a remarkable and outstanding year for us.
Remarkable because we have crossed the year of our sesquicentennial anniversary, hence completing a significant milestone in our family mission to grow and transmit our eponymous business. We promised to our teams around the world to celebrate our 150th anniversary in full independence and mastery of our destiny. As 2021 drew to an end, I was able to declare “mission accomplished” to our 7,500 professionals in 77 sites across 39 countries. Since the virus and its mutants have taken us hostage and continue to heckle us with periods of confinement and probation to this day, we were unfortunately not able to gather around the celebrations we had initially envisaged. Our focus remained on keeping all our team members safe and healthy, leading us to invent a new way of celebrating our anniversary through our groupwide online “Moving Day” event, in the same way that the pandemic has accelerated the transformation of the workplace to become more digital and to create new ways to engage with our customers.
Outstanding because we have delivered a very solid business performance in 2021 by posting sales of 1.5 billion euros, up 9.4 percent from 2020. The considerable surge in sales comes from organic growth, which confirms our position as a successful leader able to post significantly increased figures by continuing to do what we do well: service our customers with a world-class portfolio of technology-enabled products and solutions based on sustainably sourced and processed ingredients that add value to our customers’ products and bring delight to consumers.