Sniff Test

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | January 10, 2012

From sophisticated to simple, today's household care products feature scents that deliver olfactory pleasure and reinforce a brand's DNA to an increasingly discerning consumer base.

If you don’t think household fragrance is complex, think again. Snuggle—Sun Products’ fabric softener brand—features a blue iris and bamboo silk scent in its Exhilarations collection. That’s a far cry from the standard-issue floral one might associate with a brand that uses a teddy bear as its front man.

Why such a sophisticated scent? Consumers’ olfactory sense has become much more refined and they are much receptive to complex and even exotic notes that had once been the bastion of fine perfumes, not all purpose cleaners.

But the “simple” scent is big too, as homeowners continue to gravitate to natural, whether that is the actual ingredients or just the basic concept.

On top of that, shoppers have high expectations; the scent must match the brand’s aura, so to speak, be it eco, quirky or classic.

Because of these factors, fragrance—usually one of the last items on the ingredients list—becomes of primary importance to marketers as it sets the tone from the moment the consumer encounters a product in the aisle.

“The right fragrance profile is extremely critical for household products in terms of influencing a purchase decision at point of sale and also driving repeat purchase/consumer loyalty. The right fragrance can be inexorably linked in the consumer’s mind with a brand, and trigger positive or negative memories of the usage experience,” said Joseph Lattarulo, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Robertet Fragrances.

“We know that scent branding is an important and highly influential strategic lever that companies use to influence consumers to engage with a brand in hotels, restaurants and retail stores. The same holds true with household products,” he continued. “If you spend time in the household aisle at your local supermarket, you will notice customers pick up a product, smell it and either put it down or place it into their cart. That psychological purchase decision is made in an instant and the right fragrance will help convert nonusers into brand loyalists.”

In 2011, there was robust demand for increasingly sophisticated, longer lasting and highly diffusive fragrances in nearly every category from household cleaners to laundry to air care.

“We have found that consumers want their laundry to smell fresh and clean not only when they are first taken from the dryer, but for weeks afterwards. They want to slip into sheets that smell just from the laundry,” continued Lattarulo.

To that end, detergent firms have been rolling out fabric care products that extend the lifespan of the scent, so it lingers long after they emerge from the dryer.

New Launches Make Sense of Scents

Purex Crystals got the ball rolling when it was introduced by Henkel at the start of 2011. The new fabric treatment became wildly popular—so popular, in fact, the company had supply issues when consumers began gobbling up what was initially seen as a niche product within the fabric softener category. In June, Henkel announced plans to double capacity for Purex Crystals, which is offered in scents such as Fresh Spring Waters and Lavender Blossom.

Seventh Generation has revamped its liquid dish wash packaging to call attention to the fragrance, a major selling feature in the category.

Not to be left out, P&G has launched Downy Unstopables, which comes in a bead format that allows consumers to control the amount per load to deliver a “customized freshness for their laundry” when used along or with Downy liquid. Unstopables come in Fresh, which is clean, crisp and refreshing and can be used in tandem with Downy Clean Breeze, as well as Lush, which is billed as comforting and is designed to work with Downy Simple Pleasures Lavender Serenity.

Plus, P&G is expanding the concept to the Gain brand with new Gain Fireworks In-Wash Scent Booster, offered in Sweet Sizzle scent.

Fragrance is one of the biggest selling points within the Gain franchise. All told, there are 13 different scents from original fresh and Apple Mango Tango to Icy Fresh Fizz and Butterfly Kiss, making it one of the most prolifically fragrant laundry brands in the business.

“We recognize how important scent is to our fans, therefore, we strive to offer a wide variety of Gain scents to fit each and every individual,” said Hamilton Brown, P&G brand manager for Gain.

Recently, P&G enlisted comedian and actress Wanda Sykes to spread the word about the range of Gain detergent and fabric softener scents. Sykes has lent her one-of-a-kind voice to national television spots that highlight diverse characters in celebration of Gain’s diverse fragrances. In addition, the brand’s resident scent expert Tim Hittle—aka Gain’s“Scenthropologist”—will be dishing about Gain’s scents with consumers via Facebook.

Palette Expansion

The fine fragrance market has always shaped scent trends in household care, and experts see the category as having even greater influence moving forward.

“The fine fragrance and personal care categories have been highly influential on household fragrances for years, and we see that effect intensifying across all of the mainstream household brands. Now, here in the US, the consumer expects to see exotic fragrance infusions in her fabric softeners, candles and all-purpose cleaners,” said Lattarulo.

Ecover’s natural laundry liquid comes in Sunny Day fragrance.

However, there remain some steadfast standards when it comes to cleaning products—like citrus and the always-popular “fresh” concept.

“The primary driver for why these fragrance categories are so important, is their ability to effectively communicate ‘clean,’” noted Karen Mack, principal scientist, applied technology fragrance evaluator at Arylessence.

“We saw citrus and fresh as the two major fragrance categories for household products in 2011. Citrus has always meant clean to the consumer, and this season is no different,” continued Mack, adding that the “sparkle of ‘fresh’ is the perfect sensory enhancement to the illusion of ‘fresh and clean.’”

While citrus and fresh have become mainstays in cleaning, they are far from static.

“Current citrus trends have evolved into a broad range of offerings—from the natural feeling, light and airy citrus types to the powerful, tropical escape inspired blends. Successful citrus offerings are extensions of current consumer interests...from ‘natural’ positioning to the allure of an ‘escape’ experience, especially important in lean times,” said Mack.

Home care brand Caldrea’s new Mandarin Vetiver scent is a perfect example. Taking cues from the fine fragrance sector, it marries herbaceous, woody vetiver—a long time favorite of perfumers—with top notes of blood orange, grapefruit tangerine blossoms and woody petitgrain. Earthy vetiver brings refinement and sensuality to citrus composition, according to the company, which also added base notes of white thyme.

In 2011, Method put citrus in the spotlight in several formats, from wipes in a new orange zest to dish soap in two limited edition pink grapefruit and lemon mint scents.

Special Interest Scents

With consumers’ noses more receptive to new twists on even the most classic accords, companies can push the envelope—and many do so with seasonal and limited edition offerings.

Rockin’ Green’s 2011 limited edition seasonal scent was Red Hot Apple Cider, which was offered in all Rockin’ Green laundry detergents as well as in the brand’s Melody odor neutralizer/air freshener room spray range. In previous years, Rockin’ Green’s holiday scents, which have included Sugar Ray Plum and Peppermint Cocoa, proved wildly popular with the brand’s fans. In fact, in 2010, Rockin’ Green increased its supply of holiday scents—but the stock was depleted within 24 hours, according to the company.

Other limited edition scents making the rounds in 2011 were Pineapple Cardamom, Balsam Fir Plum and Crimson Pear Ginger at Caldrea and Frosted Fir, Candy Cane, Spiced Pear and Cinnamon Drop at Method, just to name a few.

While these seasonal offerings are designed to bring joy, not every consumer is smitten with scented products. Consumers with sensitive skin often skip fragranced detergents to avoid possible irritation.

This past Fall, Church& Dwight set out to bring them back into the fold with Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Plus Scent Detergent. Billed as a breakthrough detergent, it features a “skin-friendly” fresh scent that is hypoallergenic and clinically tested to be good for sensitive skin.

For those with allergies, a natural laundry detergent can be the solution—but not always.

According to Tom Domen, long-term innovations manager at Ecover USA, generally speaking, natural scents do contain more allergens than synthetic scents.

“It is a fact that you do have people that are allergic to natural components that are found, for example, in lemon or lavender. That does not mean lemons or lavender are dangerous as such. Yet, more and more consumers are looking for products without any allergens, what then in most cases will be a product with a synthetic fragrance or no fragrance at all,” he said.

To meet their needs, Ecover has rolled out Ecover Zero, a new concentrated HE laundry liquid that is free of fragrance.

Natural Progression

For Ecover, and others household care firms with a natural slant, fragrance selection is often a highly complex decision that goes beyond creating a great olfactory experience; it also entails materials sourcing, supply and sustainability issues.

“Ecover has been and always will be about making sustainable products, products that deliver the expected performance but are at the same the best ecological choice you can make within the category,” said Domen. “Consumers also expect from a brand like us to make the best ecological choices. That is also why we use mainly plant-based ingredients for our formulations, including the fragrance.”

P&G’s Gain franchise is all about fragrance. This is the brand’s Island Fresh scent.

And cost is yet another factor to contend with in the household sector.

“Working with natural fragrances limits the variety you can offer enormously, compared to using synthetic components,” Domen told Happi. In total, there are 325 natural components to use, compared to 1418 synthetic components. But out of those 325 natural ones, only a few are affordable to use for washing and cleaning products. It’s no use to make your product twice as expensive, just because of the fragrance.”

According to Domen, there are approximately 40 components that Ecover can play with to create affordable, natural scents. And to its credit, the company has developed some unique ones. In addition to scents such as Sunny Day fabric softener and a dishwash liquid with a Chamomile and Marigold scent, the company recently launched a new Pomegranate liquid dish wash and a toilet cleaner in Bay Breeze.

Seventh Generation—a company that has natural in its DNA—is equally assiduous about fragrance.

“We have a very stringent list about ingredients and processes to get those oils for fragrances; it would be a lot easier if we used synthetic fragrances made in a lab, that lasted for a long time. It would be easier and, frankly, cheaper,” Daron Byerly, category manager at Seventh Generation told Happi.

His firm recently closed the entry period on its Nature Makes Perfect Scents sweepstakes and will award one winner and one guest a trip to see the sources of the essential oils featured in brand’s lineup. For example, they could head to France to see the lavenderor Italy to see where the lemons and clementines are grown.

The contest was designed to call attention to Seventh Generation’s long-standing diligence in sourcing natural ingredients—but the company embarked on the project to also highlight its fragrance options in a category where the sniff test, not performance, is often the deciding factor for consumers.

“Scent is a purchase driver in dish liquids—it is a scent-driven category, said Byerly, who added that Seventh Generation also revamped the dish detergent’s packaging in the process. Rather than waste “valuable real estate” on the front panel of the package to make claims about cleaning (which he said are a given), Seventh Generation now features a large photo that shows fields from where the ingredients hail.

A Whiff of the Future

When asked what scents are on the olfactory horizon within household product categories, fragrance suppliers and marketers have their ideas.

In hard surface cleaners, the market should continue to see citrus and fresh as central characters, according to Mack of Arylessence.

“However,” she said, “we have seen a great focus on the fragrance experience in the bucket dilutable floor cleaner area so I would expect to see more variety. New launches will tend to follow the fragrance trends we see in the mass market air care and laundry brands.”

“We see the influence of edible, gourmand and woody notes that are already highly successful in the fine fragrance, personal care and air care categories steadily make their way into household products,” added Lattarulo of Robertet, which has developed household fragrances with notes such as Madagascan Vanilla, Moroccan Fig, Dark Chocolate, Tropical Coconut, Oud Wood and Rich Leather.

The trick is in balancing those notes with ones that reinforce the primary role of the product.

“The challenge for some household categories such as all-purpose cleaners is to develop fragrances that have “sheer gourmand notes yet still smell fresh and clean, not sticky, cloying or overly sweet,” he said.

Mack’s colleague, Monica Burke, pointed to one gourmand accord she believes will influence the cleaning product category.

“I believe that the new ‘clean’ trend will be ginger—not as a featured note but as an accent, underlying the usual clean notes of citrus, pine, fresh florals,” said the Arylessence perfumer. “It is this hook that will make clean a new experience and a sparkling clean sensation.”

Marketers are always on the prowl for the next big scent.

Ecover is working on new variants in other categories that could hit stores sometime this year, according to Domen. “New scents will be a major theme for 2012,” he told Happi. “We want to explore many different options of what we can do with our perfumes. We will fine-tune our perfume concept and will be looking for more creative ways to offer a much larger perfume variety to our consumers.”

Happi InterviewsDr. Ladd Smith


Scented Products Under Attack?


When it comes to household care categories, scent and experience are intertwined. But twice in 2011, the safety of scented household products came into the public arena with attention-grabbing headlines and media reports. First, in August, a study was released questioning the safety of air fresheners, and in November, a similar issue arose surrounding allergies and air fresheners.


In the first case, the safety of scented laundry products was questioned by University of Washington professor Anne Steinemann in a paper that made claims about emissions from dryer vents after using certain laundry products. According to the paper, which was published online in Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, air vented from machines using the top-selling scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet contains hazardous chemicals, including two that are classified as carcinogens.


In the second situation, Dr. Stanley Fineman, the recently appointed president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, reported that the chemicals contained in many scented products lead to runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion. He said that those with asthma are especially sensitive, and that study data indicates a change in their lung functioning when exposed to certain chemical fragrances.


Product and fragrance manufacturers and industry groups, including the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, Inc. (RIFM), were quick to rebut the allegations and reiterate their position on the long-term safety of the products. Happi checked in with Dr. Ladd Smith, current RIFM president, about this situation, and other ongoing projects at the nonprofit corporation.


HAPPI: Last summer, fragrance in laundry products came under attack after a study was released by a University of Washington researcher. RIFM and associations in the industry together issued a statement about the products safety—can you provide us with an update on that situation?

SMITH: The industry has received no formal response from our issued “counterpoint” statements. RIFM also had a letter to the editor published in Environmental Health Perspectives rebutting an article about this study, Singal, M., Vitale, D., Smith, L.W. “Fragranced Products and VOCs.” Letter to the Editor, Environmental Health Perspectives, 119 (5): A200 (2011).


Separately, RIFM has tried to contact some of the more public proponents of this research, Dr. Oz and Dr. Fineman of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) to start a dialogue about the accuracy of the science. We look forward to a reasoned scientific discussion on the topic but have not heard back from this quarter either.


HAPPI: Have there been any other similar situations in which fragrances in household care products have come under fire in 2011?

SMITH: The same researcher published another paper on dryer emissions implicating fragrance ingredients among others. The second study employed similar ill-designed protocols and implied health risks without solid scientific evidence. Many issues currently in the press are derived from these two papers based on weak science.


There is, however, proposed legislation coming out of California that may have greater impact on the industry. The proposed Safe Chemicals Act aimed at updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the newly proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulations. Each has the ability to change the way the industry does business in the US.


HAPPI: Can you provide us an update on RIFM’s latest studies/involvement in fragrances?

SMITH: RIFM continues to conduct robust safety evaluations on materials used as fragrance ingredients, through programs in human health, the environment, respiratory and the RIFM Database. RIFM is also deeply involved in research and method development to examine non-animal alternatives such as protein binding, cytokine profiling and in silico predictive modeling.


The RIFM Environmental Science Program’s ongoing research supports the development of new IFRA (International Fragrance Association) Environmental Standards. The RIFM Respiratory Science Program developed and recently debuted in silico models that predict the behavior of materials released from different air care/household spray products and evaluates the exposure risk. The RIFM Human Health Science Program continues to review and publish on the safety of fragrance raw materials. In 2011, six groups (about 120 materials) were published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Human Health Science Program also has a state of the science, global epidemiology study that intends to accurately assess the true prevalence of fragrance allergy in the general population. The European phase is just coming to completion.


RIFM’s research results in the form of publications, research papers and posters are available from the Science pages of the RIFM website at www.rifm.org.


HAPPI: What other issues are on RIFM’s radar screen now that might come into play in 2012?

SMITH: REACH in Europe still plays a big role and new efforts out of California regarding Green Chemistry and Alternatives Assessment are being met. RIFM is tracking indoor air quality issues, from a study perspective, through the work that EPHECT (Emissions, Exposure Patterns and Health Effects of Consumer Products) is doing in Europe and the issues being raised in California.


RIFM also continues to perform the routine testing and research methodology development that assists the industry as it moves toward greater transparency and making the public more aware of the work being done to assure safe fragrance use. And ingredient disclosure initiatives, whether federal or state based, have a direct impact on the use of safety information.

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