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Vanilla Fields Draws a Herd of Competitors

NEW YORK -- More and more mass fragrance marketers want to graze in Coty's Vanilla Fields.

The phenomenal success of Vanilla Fields -- the brand has become the top-selling scent for many chains such as Kmart Corp. and PayLess and is expected to...

NEW YORK — More and more mass fragrance marketers want to graze in Coty’s Vanilla Fields.

The phenomenal success of Vanilla Fields — the brand has become the top-selling scent for many chains such as Kmart Corp. and PayLess and is expected to hit $30 million in wholesale volume this year — has encouraged several other fragrance firms to create vanilla-based scents.

The battle is so intense that Coty brought suit and won a decision in a New York Federal Court to block one of its competitors.

Vanilla Fields has spawned a host of other contenders as well:

  • Parfum Parquet’s French Vanilla will ship in September. The line will consist of two stockkeeping units: a 1-oz. spray mist for $11 and a 1.7-oz. size for $15. A trial-size 0.5-oz. version will retail for $4.95.
  • Bonne Bell’s vanilla additions to its Bonne Bell Smackers and Lip Smackers line include Smackers Aerosol Vanilla Blossom scent, which retails for $3.25, and Vanilla Vibes bath and shower gel and Vanilla Blossom Spritzer, each for $7.95.
  • Coty itself will try to extend its share of the vanilla market with the September launch of Vanilla Musk. Jerry Abernathy, Coty’s president, predicted first-year wholesale volume will hit $12.5 million. Vanilla Musk has a suggested retail of $12 for a 1-oz. cologne spray.

“We want to get an even bigger slice of the vanilla pie,” said Mary Manning, vice president for market development at Coty.

Several retailers said they’ve heard other manufacturers are planning to enter the vanilla wars and likened vanilla to musk, which is marketed in several scents.

“I’m not sure you can trademark vanilla,” said one buyer.

One manufacturing executive who is introducing a vanilla product said, “I don’t think Coty can lay claim to inventing vanilla. I don’t think they can stop others from adding vanilla to their products.”

In addition, the popularity of vanilla with consumers continues to grow, executives noted. According to Ed Weinberg, vice president and general manager for the Parfums Parquet division of Houbigant in Ridgefield, N.J., vanilla is catching on as women return to romantic and sensuous scents.

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“It is the musk of the Nineties,” said Naomi Germano, cosmetics buyer for Harmon Discount Stores in Cedar Grove, N.J. According to Germano, additional vanilla items such as Bonne Bell’s Vanilla Blossom are selling briskly in her deep discount stores.

She said there is room in her selection for more vanilla entries, including Coty’s Vanilla Musk.

“Musk is still very popular, and it should attract a different customer [from Vanilla Fields],” said Germano.

Coty’s Manning added, “We believe it will appeal to a little bit older and different fragrance user.”

But many retailers wonder just how many vanilla entries they need. One executive said he was planning to stick with two vendors — Coty and one other new launch.

“Coty found a niche in the market. I’m not sure there is enough room for all of the new launches. Only one [Coty] is spending any money behind it,” he said. Coty plans to support Vanilla Fields with $7 million in TV advertising this year.

However, Weinberg of Parfums Parquet noted that French Vanilla will be backed with an estimated $5 million in print advertising for the holiday season.

Other retailers said the onslaught of new vanilla contenders could merely dilute Vanilla Field’s sales.

“I’m not sure if the additional brands will bring in new users,” said Karen Durham, buyer for Duane Reade, based in Long Island City, N.Y. “Coty has been the one to really build the business.”

Manning said that, as with the musk craze of the Seventies, the vanilla boom will go only so far.

“You’ll see the same thing happen. There will be many new products. There will be a shakeout, and only one or two players will survive,” she said. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I’m glad we were there first.”

In the Vanilla Fields trademark case, Coty claimed trademark infringement against Mem Co. Inc. of Northvale, N.J., over its vanilla scent, Vanilla Skies of Heaven Scent.

Mem began shipping the product early this month to a small number of retailers, the company said.

According to court papers, filed on April 26, Coty said it spent more than $2.5 million between September 1993 and the end of March to advertise Vanilla Fields.

Coty also said its products have been a “great and well-publicized success with the public.” The firm stated that Mem’s use of the vanilla trademark is “likely to cause confusion or deceive the general public.”

This week, Judge Thomas Griesa ruled in favor of Coty, issuing a preliminary injunction against Mem to prohibit the company from selling Vanilla Skies.

“There is sufficient similarity in the overall impression created by the names to create a likelihood of confusion,” said Griesa, adding that the confusion is magnified by the success of Vanilla Fields.

Griesa noted that when Mem decided to add a vanilla product to its Heaven Scent line, “Mem knew of Vanilla Fields, and knew it was quite successful.” He added, though, that he didn’t believe Mem intentionally copied Coty’s product.

Coty has also asked for an accounting of all profits derived by the sale of the Vanilla Skies merchandise to retailers. The issue will be settled at a later date.

Because of a production error caused by a late insertion of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis obituary, this article appeared in truncated form on May 20. This is a complete — and updated — version.