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A Fragrant Forum

By Renata Ashcar, Correspondent | July 6, 2010

Leaders from the global fragrance industry meet at the World Perfumery Congress in Cannes.

When leaders from the global fragrance industry need a forum to debate the pressing issues of the day, they head to Cannes for the World Perfumery Congress (WPC), which is held every three years in France. The latest edition of WPC took place June 1-4.

The last time the Congress took place, in 2007, it was hailed as the “Davos of Nose” by Time magazine. It could also be called the Olfactory Olympics, as renowned perfumers, academics and marketers flexed their thoughts throughout the five-day event discussing trends, brand identity and fashion. The WPC was truly an international event, attracting visitors from 37 countries. China and India particularly well represented at Palais des Festivals of Cannes.
While the attendee list and speaker topics were diverse, WPC chairman Jean-Pierre Subrenat urged the Congress attendees to unite to fight growing regulations and detractors who would label perfumes as poison.

“The industry must stick together to answer as one voice all the adversity we are facing, such as regulations becoming stricter and dermatologists trying to say that perfumes are poison,” said Subrenat. “Consumers are getting more and more information and that’s why we have to reply to their demands not as individuals but as an industry, with one voice.”

Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive officer, L´Oréal, says his company had to include the concept of sustainable development at all level of business.
But the Congress was much more than a forum for debate—it was also a market to conduct business, as suppliers showcased organic grapefruit, carvone, geraniol, cardamom, orris, vanilla and myriad other new materials that could all be experienced during the exhibition which took place during the Congress.

For the first time, the exhibition was opened a day before the conference began to give visitors more chances to visit suppliers’ stands. The extra time enabled attendees the opportunity to discover new raw materials, molecules and technologies. And while the exhibit floor lacked several large suppliers, others such as Albert Vieille, BASF, Biolandes, Capua, Mane and Robertet were in attendance. The exhibit floor was buzzing with talk of technological advances, as well as consolidation and the potential of emerging markets. All in all, it was an excellent opportunity to check out what is new in the fragrance industry.
A myriad of new materials, molecules and technologiescould be experimented during the exhibition.
Let´s Reinvent Ourselves

Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive officer, L´Oréal, called on the industry and those in the audience to reinvent themselves (ITSELF?), now that the concept of sustainable development is firmly entrenched in the minds of consumers. “We had to include it at all levels of business,” he explained.

For example, much of L’Oréal’s research is based on green chemistry, with an emphasis on organics and alternatives to animal testing. Sustainable innovation for L’Oréal also includes responsible sourcing, and fair trade is playing an increasingly important role within the world’s largest beauty company, according to Agon.

Of course, no congress in 2010 would be complete without a reference to The Great Recession. WPC speakers addressed the global economic crisis and its consequences on the industry including its financial, strategic and potential future impact. Yet, many presentations also offered the hope that post-crisis, there were lessons learned and problems fixed, both for the global economy in general and the fragrance industry in particular.

Harvey Gedeon of Estée Lauder delivered a presentation entitled, “Shiftingsenses: re-inventing the fragrance story;” while Betty Santonnat from Cosmebio spoke on the COSMOS standard. Other presenters included Jack DiMaggio, managing director, global fragrances and flavor business unit, Colgate-Palmolive, who discussed the consumer of tomorrow, and Tony Burfield, co-founder of Cropwatch, who explained how risk aversion has led to a decline in the art of perfumery. Burfield has been very active fighting legislation and other restrictions that affect natural products.

The WPC organizing team.
According to Burfield, many of today’s perfumers are of declining importance, being merely the obedient manipulatorsof fragrance legislation-software, tinkering withformulae to reduce labelling risks, finding substitutions for expensive, withdrawn or “hazardous” ingredients, and often working with a brief that minimizes the use of natural materials.

Two roundtable discussions debated the topics of the business of fine perfumery and toiletries and functional perfumery in the world. Panelists included Karyn Khoury, Estée Lauder’s senior vice president, corporate fragrance development worldwide, and Thierry de Baschmakoff, artistic director and founder of Aesthete. Some experts cautioned that the tradition of artistry and creativity is being eroded. And they warned that the industry may be in danger of losing its identity, as it becomes more concerned with Wall Street results than with consumer desires.

Naturals in Demand

Despite the financial pressures on the industry, the demand for natural materials is surging, and Michel Mane, president, Mane Américas, called for new policies to ensure that these materials will be available to future generations.

Michel Mane called for new policies to protect natural materials.
Filipe Tomazelli Sabara, business director, Beraca, explained how his company is working with local communities to ensure that Brazil’s biodiversity is preserved through sustainable harvesting. For the past 10 years, Beraca’s Biodiversity Enhancement Program has ensured traceability in the supply of raw materials from Brazilian biomes. Focusing on 58 communities from the Amazon region, the project both improves regional development and preserves the largest rainforest in the world, according to Sabara.

Social Media Are Here to Stay

Moving the focus of the meeting from fragrance notes and regulations to the social media phenomena, Wolfstar chairman Tim Sinclair urged the fragrance industry to commit to this space. He explained how social media is even more valuable to luxury marketers because it affords them the opportunity to listen, learn and engage their customers. At the same time, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can help fragrance houses explain their roles in corporate social responsibility and enable the industry to tell its side of the story when it comes to reports on unsafe ingredients.

Stephen Hicks, Procter & Gamble’s director of R&D development/flavor & fragrance, explained how consumers are using social media to relay their product experiences—both good and bad. As a result, consumers have a greater say in product and brand development than ever before.

But at the same time, Hicks warned that as more regulations infiltrate the industry, in the future, REACH may eliminate major aroma chemicals, while patent expirations may lead to low-priced fragrances. He urged the audience to innovate more, better manage its public image and practices, and avoid becoming a commodity by creating new olfactory experiences over the next 10 years that are impossible to create today.

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