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FMA Ponders Green Fragrances: a Balancing Act

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, Perfumer & Flavorist magazine
Posted: January 8, 2009, from the January 2009 issue of P&F magazine.

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He showed figures that natural/organic personal care has grown in recent years from 4% to 10% of the market. The growth, Fabricant said, stemmed from ecological concerns and vague fears of synthetics. Performance remains the bottom line, of course, but if price and performance are generally equal between a natural and conventional product, consumers will tend to chose natural. In this atmosphere, Fabricant continued, there is ample pseudo-natural positioning.

"We’re looking to sunset out synthetic fragrance [from our standard]," he noted. "The concept of natural and organic fragrance is one that there’s much debate on. At the same time there are companies that are developing products and standards to that end. We’re hoping that the more and more products get certified, the demand for truly natural products will cause a shift in the supply chain for more natural and organic alternatives." Fabricant’s position was that chemistry has improved to the point that high-quality and efficacious natural personal care is possible. "Consumers will pay more," he said. While acknowledging the NPA natural label is not a health or safety claim, it will serve as a guide for consumers seeking natural.

During a Q&A session, Fabricant was asked why the NPA standard was the one the industry should follow. The blunt answer was, "It’s the only one out there."

Meanwhile, Dan Salvito of the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials presented the industry’s science-based point of view. "The argument maybe isn’t so much with the [NPA] certification," he said. "It’s the fact that many of us [in the industry] have been living with this for a long time—natural versus synthetic. And natural isn’t necessarily safer. … From the consumer’s standpoint, the emphasis on natural [implies] ‘this is a safe product for me to use.’ I think that for those of us that are chemists, we feel strongly about the fact that synthetics are not necessarily [less safe]."

"But that perception is not going to change by chemistry alone," Fabricant responded, highlighting the continuing gap between industry knowledge and public perception.