2020 . 12 . 11 | written by Karen Marin

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Last week the Perfumer & Flavorist hosted a 4-day digital event that brought together a group of experts who discussed the impact of the pandemic on the fragrance industry, it’s effect on technical and creative developments, and views on the future of fragrance. In this two-part article I’ll give you the key takeaways from each day along with action points to help you embrace the future.

The first day’s seminar covered Fragrance Leadership during COVID-19 in which Achim Daub, Symrise; Felix Mayr-Harting, Givaudan; Christophe de Villeplee, IFF; Michel Mane, Mane; and Ilaria Resta, Firmenich; participated. Four key themes emerged from the conversation: fostering sustainability, driving the biotech revolution, promoting diversity and inclusivity and remaining optimistic.

It’s been one of the hottest topics of 2020 and the group acknowledged it’s here to stay. They agreed that all companies need to make strides to do better and continue to develop the areas where they can make the greatest impact. The industry has already been moving in this direction but consumers are pushing for it more now than ever before. Each leader spoke about internal company programs focused on people, nature and climate. Key observations?
• Sustainability must be integrated into your business practices.
• Focus on where you can make the biggest difference.
• As has been said before, brands need to have a purpose, be ethical and socially-conscious and transparent in communication.

In line with the sustainability discussion, the group recognizes that a massive transformation is underway in the ingredient sector. This shift was already happening but consumer expectations have pushed it forward. To that point they praised the talent of perfumers who are challenged to work with new palettes of raw materials that are moving away from nonrenewable ingredients to what could be called a biotech revolution. This will change the face of the industry forever. Suggestions?
• Stay flexible and be sure your offer addresses consumer demand.
• Build agility into your model so you can adapt to the varying availability of raw materials.
• Enrich the portfolio of ingredients to answer the consumer demand for safety, traceability and responsible sourcing.
• With fragrance’s new role in wellness, consider developing holistics and products that promote well-being.

Each leader commented on the value of diversity and inclusivity, recognizing that multi-cultural backgrounds contribute to creativity which is the lifeblood of the industry
. The collective mission is to allow everyone to achieve their full potential, so it is crucial to set the example in the workplace in terms of equality in numbers, pay and positions. They felt the industry could be a role model for other industries but they admit there is still a lot of ground to make up.

In regard to the future, all the leaders felt the industry has to reinvent itself and to find new ways of doing business. Change was already afoot, but the pandemic drove the point home and accelerated the trend. Embracing digital, leveraging Artificial Intelligence and moving to a contactless model were just some of the thoughts bandied about. The general feeling was one of optimism, seeing the crisis as an opportunity to think about what truly matters and how work is getting done. With no rule book to follow, these leaders called out the importance of learning from each other and bonding through solidarity. They felt the industry will emerge as a stronger group while also becoming more interdependent than in the past.
On Day Two the workshop, Brand Leadership in Unprecedented Times, took on the topics of the shifting preferences of the consumer, the power of fragrance, impacts on marketing and reshaping the business. The panelists included Patrice Beliard, Estee Lauder, Global Brand President Estee Lauder Companies and Joanna Clarke, VP, Flavors & Fragrances & Fragrance Technologies, Procter & Gamble. The overarching message that came across is that in the pandemic, consumers have turned to brands they know, rely on and trust. Fragrances associated with specific products give comfort, are familiar and make people feel safe. They play the role of positivity in the home, promoting calmness and allowing people to think towards the future when things will be better.

In terms of business impact, both panelists noted the essential shift to digital, even if it is still not possible to smell through the web
. They remarked that product development has become more virtual, and that consumer feedback in the testing process is faster and more engaging. Rather than have a group of consumers meet to give insight, now it’s all done by one-on-one live chats which are more relaxed and more fruitful.
When the subject turned to new launch campaigns, both panelists agreed that going forward, strategies have to be 100% viral. Key steps to take for digital success?
• Selling fragrance in a digital environment requires great vocabulary. Be sure descriptions make scent come to life through words.
• Plot out the entire online consumer journey – from discovery to end transaction.
• Ensure that all messaging is consistent for the brand.
• Choose your spokespeople and ambassadors with great care. Be sure they:
o Are trustworthy and actually like the brand.
o Engage with the public online by sharing experiences and creating dialogues.

The two panelists underscored the need to put new sampling systems in place and to embrace new contactless systems in store for trial. These are the natural next steps the consumer will take after having made the online discovery.
• Sampling must reach the consumer in their home now. It makes the most economic sense to utilize multiple sampling vehicles – including discovery kits – to send through the post.
• Unidose samples are hygienic and efficient in store.
• In store diffuser systems, such as MultiScent 20 from Orlandi or Arcade’s Scenttalker scentstrip distributor, are changing the ways consumers will test product in-store.

In closing, the conversation turned to the importance of product labelling. Consumers want to be sure that their products are safe and produced with respect for the environment. Consequently, it’s crucial to be transparent about what’s in the flacon, but sadly, this change means the world has lost the era of the mysterious allure of fragrance. No more secrets!

Next week’s article will recap the final two days of the virtual event where perfumers and association leaders weigh in on the most important topics facing the industry today.

On-demand access to all four sessions is available until January 29, 2021. Additional information available at:
Virtual Events (