Home Fragrances: Sweet Success

November 22, 2005

Fragrances for the home and household cleaning products have never been more popular among consumers.

Demand for highly-fragranced products was strong in 2004, and the category is expected to keep on growing.

While household and personal products as a whole slowed in recent years, household fragrance has excelled. Home air fresheners grew an impressive 18% to $505 million in food, drugstore and mass merchandiser locations for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 31, 2004, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago.

Home air care includes a wide array of items, from candles to fan-powered fragrances to cassettes that can be attached to the furnace. According to industry professionals contacted by Happi, technology in air care continues to grow.

Products that coordinate color with scent—such as green apple—appeal to shoppers. Photo: Ciba Specialty Chemicals.
“One of the biggest developments in household fragrances is the conditioning of the air, such as fragrances that get distributed through heating or cooling systems,” said Peter Blechinger, vice president of operations for Alpine Aromatics, Piscataway, NJ.

Consumers also seem fascinated with the new disk technology, such as Febreze ScentStories, a system that enables the user to “play” different fragrances.

There is even a trend toward matching home fragrances with lifestyle, industry experts insist.

On the flip side of the coin are candles, an old-fashioned home scenting method that caught fire in recent years. However, the popularity of candles slipped 4.9% in 2004, garnering only $311 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 31, according to IRI. It seems that families are eschewing the touchy-feely for the high-tech. According to industry professionals, woodsy, floral and fruity fragrances are still “in”—but consumers want these “natural” scents delivered in new and exciting ways.

“New launches such as P&G’s ScentStories, Glade Wisp (which automatically releases puffs of scent at timed intervals) and the Air Wick Mobil’Air portable electric air diffuser (from Reckitt Benckiser) are creating new opportunities in home air care,” said Avery Gilbert, president, Synesthetics, Montclair, NJ. “There is a lot of opportunity for interactive consumer products that are simple, a little bit fun and allow the consumer to control the olfactory ambiance in the home.”

More Gadgets, Less Guesswork
According to Mr. Gilbert of Synesthetics, high-tech home fragrance “gadgets” are popular because they offer a measure of control as far as the amount and type of fragrance used.
Technology exists to fine-tune consumers’ individual desires still further, but “the expense of truly high-tech fragrance delivery systems is bound to put people off somewhat,” Mr. Gilbert said. Also, “The industry has been slow to get on the bandwagon here. The general idea exists that fragrance is somehow not about technology or electronics. That may be true, but technology and electronics are ways to bring the fragrance to you.”

Mr. Gilbert applauded products such as ScentStories, saying these are helping to open up the air care industry to new possibilities. However, he said this idea can be taken further. “In the future, we’re looking at programmability in this sort of venue,” he said. “The consumer will be able to pick the order the fragrances play in, rather than simply waiting for one scent to ‘play out.’ Much like a CD player, one of the psychological attractors with this type of system is programmability.”

A higher cost on such items has been a deterrent so far, but the market could open up very soon, Mr. Gilbert said. “Look at the market for taking smells out of the air, such as the Ionic Breeze. People pay a lot of money for that, and I think people would pay if they could control what’s coming in as well as what’s going out.” He added that marketers can take a tip from the toy industry when promoting such products. “We love electronic toys of all kinds,” said Mr. Gilbert. “We need to make more clever use of the ‘fun’ factor for home air care.”

Candles were a hot item during the 1990s, but sales have cooled in recent years, according to industry experts.

Soothing Scents
While consumers wait to make the leap into high-tech home fragrance, many are still riding the wave of the “natural” trend. This includes natural release systems, such as candles, and natural scents such as fruits, florals or herbals.

The market for scented candles fell 4.9% to $311 million in the year ended Oct. 31, 2004, according to IRI. Marketers agreed that candles may have reached their apex and are now on a downswing.

“Candles are getting squeezed out of the market by other air care forms,” said Mr. Gilbert. “They’ve had a great run, but people want to do more with scent now.”

However, marketers haven’t given up. A smart move for candle marketers has been an expansion from niche stores into supermarkets and chains, such as Wal-Mart.

“There are some very big candle companies out there,” said Mr. Blechinger of Alpine Aromatics, “and they’re covering more store territory.”

Alpine Aromatics offers custom fragrance oil blends and maintains a base of more than 200,000 formulas. Applications include cosmetics, industrial and of course, home cleaners and air care.

Candles tie in well with the aromatherapy trend, according to Mr. Blechinger. Although synthetics are often incorporated into mass-produced candles, by their nature they are considered reminiscent of days gone by, and can be fragranced with scents that tie in with that idea. “Lavender is, of course, the big scent in aromatherapy,” Mr. Blechinger said. “Fruits are popular too, especially melon and fresh scents such as green apple.”

Another fragrance family that is attracting candle buyers is food-type scents, such as spices and baked goods. These are particularly popular during the holiday season but can be used any time of year to make a home smell comforting. “We get a lot of requests for toast fragrance or fresh-baked bread,” said Mr. Blechinger. “These scented candles can even be used to enhance the smell of what you’re cooking.”

Woody, earthy scents are another trend. “Woods, cedar, patchouli and mahogany comprise an overall trend toward the natural and organic, rather than a chemical smell,” Mr. Blechinger said.

Executives at fragrance company Robertet agreed that natural scents are still a hit with consumers. “Apple and berry notes have gained recent popularity in home care products,” said Joseph Lattarulo of the company. “Natural, outdoorsy themes are popular, whether it’s the invigorating feel of mountain air or calming shores. We are seeing more fragrances that compliment these themes.”

Harsh is Out; Fresh is In
There has always been a market for home air care, but in recent years, the trend toward natural or complimentary scents has extended into cleaning products as well. Gone are the days of harsh or disinfectant smells, according to home fragrance marketers.

“Currently there is a lavender variant in Pine Sol, Formula 409 and Windex,” pointed out Mr. Lattarulo of Robertet. “Home care is becoming more like the personal care market. Manufacturers are keeping (the market) fresh by offering consumers a wardrobe of scent varieties from which to choose. Disinfecting odors are out, while pleasant, inviting scents are in.”

Citrus scents have always been a top pick for cleaning products, especially lemon, industry experts said. A few years ago, orange joined the fray and is giving lemon a run for its money.

“Lemon is still the foundation for the home care market with its strong cleaning heritage and natural connotation,” said Mr. Lattarulo, “but the orange explosion of the past few years has paved the way for other citrus notes. We are seeing grapefruit and lime notes with a modern twist in products such as the new Joy dish detergent.”

Tropical notes in household cleaning products are also attractive, offering the illusion of fantasy, escape and relaxation. “As consumers become more fragrance savvy and sophisticated, we will see more cutting-edge fragrances and exotic notes enter the home care market,” Mr. Lattarulo said. “The use of naturals will be further exploited in the future as they enhance claims of aromatherapy and are representative of the back-to-nature movement.”

Spa-type fragrances also find their way into the house, according to Norm VanRees, president of chemical operations, Chemia Corp. “People ask us for our input on what fragrance to use,” he said. “They say, ‘here’s our target market. We want a fragrance that matches that lifestyle.’”

Chemia also gets a lot of requests for “color-coordinated” fragrances. Accor-ding to Mr. VanRees, certain scents are associated with certain colors. “Pink is hot this year in fashion,” he said. “A pink fragrance would be a sweet floral, such as carnation. Green fragrances are fresh scents, like foliage. And of course, the color orange is associated with a citrus-type fragrance.”

If it all sounds a bit complex, that’s because it is—but the results can set a product above its competitors on the shelf, Mr. VanRees said. “Our customers ask us to help them design the right scent for a product; we’re equipped to do that. It’s tough and it’s not an exact science; my idea might be different from your idea. But there’s almost no entirely wrong idea, as long as it’s in the ballpark.”

Mr. VanRees also pointed out that scents in all personal care categories tend to trickle down from the fashion industry’s current clothing and perfume offerings. This is no less true for household fragrances.

“Very often, household products mimic fine fragrances,” he said. “In shampoos, that has been going on for many years. It’s catching on now in the home fragrance arena.”

Fabric-like scents are also new and have caught on very quickly, according to Robertet executives. “Scents such as fresh-dried linen and cotton are moving into the home care market,” said Mr. Lattarulo of the company. “Fragrances for the home care market must promote a perception of cleanliness and enhance the cleaning experience. They must create an ambiance in the home and make it one’s own personal haven.”

It’s in the Air
Many fragrance suppliers said consumers are beginning to desire an all-over fresh feeling in the home. They don’t just want to mask odors—they want to eliminate their source.

“There are more products now than ever with claims of odor neutralization,” pointed out Mr. Lattarulo of Robertet. “These products contain high-impact malodor counteraction fragrances with built in air freshening benefits.” Robertet has many years of expertise in this arena, he added.

Fragrances that are distributed through the air at intervals deliver an all-around fresh scent. Many plug-in and fan-controlled room fresheners have popped up on store shelves during the past several years.

Taking this trend a little further, Web Products offers Filter Fresh, a whole-home air freshener that is attached to the air conditioner or furnace. The air moving from either appliance causes the gel to fan throughout the entire house, according to Web Products executives.

The product was previously marketed at Home Depot in the furnace section, but this year it crosses over into grocery stores, Wal Mart and Target.

“Filter Fresh started out next to the furnace filters at Home Depot locations. That was only natural, since it attaches to a furnace,” said Janet Snyder, president, Web Products. “We also do a private-label version of it for Lowe’s. But now we’re expanding.”

She explained that very often, it is the woman of the family who does the shopping. “Unfortunately, not as many women go into the furnace department,” she quipped. “So we’re trying to get this merchandise where women shop.”

Mr. Blechinger agreed that women are a prime shopping audience to target when it comes to home air care. “Women tend to be more aware of their environment than men are, and they do more of the purchasing,” he said.

A drawback of the Filter Fresh gel freshener is that only one scent permeates the house; different rooms can’t have different scents. However, “Filter Fresh only lasts between four days and one week,” Ms. Snyder pointed out, “so it’s not like you’re stuck with one fragrance for months and months on end.”

She added that many people utilize Filter Fresh for parties or seasonal occasions. “For holiday time, we have mulling spice scents and an all-spice cookie scent,” she said. Web Products will expand shortly into individual room fresheners to complement the line.

A Breath of Fresh Air
Home air fresheners blew away all other air care categories last year, with sales growth of 18% overall. Here are the top 10 vendors in the category for the 52-week period ended Oct. 31, 2004. Figures do not include Wal-Mart sales. All dollar figures are in millions.
Vendor $ Sales % Change
S.C. Johnson & Son 256.8 25.7
Reckitt Benckiser 142.1 13.0
Dial Corp. 66.3 6.8
Private Label 8.1 8.5
Procter & Gamble 7.8 n/a
Vapor Products 3.6 7.9
Beaumont Products 3.0 19.1
California Scents 2.3 6.3
New Ideas International 1.7 -18.3
Labs Limited 1.6 9.1
Category Total 505.8 18.0
Source: Information Resources, Inc., Chicago.

Holding It All Together
New technologies abound in home air care, but dealing with fragrances of any kind can be a dicey proposition. Stability can be a problem, and the trend toward clear or semi-transparent packaging exposes the product to UV light and possible degradation.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals, based in Switzerland and maintaining a U.S. office in Tarrytown, NY, offers several products to help products stay fresh, stay together and still deliver fragrance in a way that’s pleasing to the customer.

Ciba’s ESQ (excited state quencher) technology increases the shelf life of personal and household products, according to company executives. ESQ interacts with excited states of molecules that are exposed to light. This protects the products from both UV radiation and visible light and offers a new way to stabilize colors, fragrances and other sensitive ingredients.

Ciba also offers Tinogard antioxidants, specifically designed to overcome problems associated with oxidation-sensitive ingredients such as fragrances or natural products. Tinogard antioxidants help prevent yellowing and preserve the product’s freshness.

RTD HallStar, Inc., Hackettstown, NJ, also offers materials beneficial to maintaining the integrity of a home fragrance product. The company’s CoSolv CPW was developed for the microemulsification of difficult to solubilize organic oil phases, such as essential oils and fragrances. Many traditional solubilizers must be utilized at four to six times the level of the oil phase to achieve complete solubilization in water, according to RTD HallStar executives. However, only one to two parts of CoSolv CPW per one part oil phase are typically required for complete solubilization, yielding clear, aqueous solutions.

Ahead of the Game
The home air care market is changing fast, and marketers must have their eyes open for new possibilities, according to industry experts contacted by Happi.

“We do presentations for customers this time of year for next Christmas,” pointed out Mr. VanRees of Chemia. “You need to stay well ahead of the game.”

Agreed Mr. Blechinger of Alpine, “Many new products burst onto the market seemingly without notice. You have to keep watching for what’s up and coming.”

Meanwhile, real technology—especially motors or electronics—are a very real possibility for home fragrance’s future. “I think we’re on the cusp of this right now,” commented Mr. Gilbert of Synesthetics. “Look at the new products from SC Johnson, Glade and Reckitt Benckiser. Plug-ins have ‘unplugged’ themselves and have walked away from the wall now.”

Until customers are ready for a new way of viewing home air care, this technology is being under-utilized. But it’s worth the wait, industry professionals insist. “These high-tech, extremely individualized ways of scenting a home are achievable right now,” insisted Mr. Gilbert. “People just need to be ready. We can make it very simple and do-able now.”

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