Exclusive report: Natural Products in Fragrance

Dominance of Synthetics

Throughout the past 50 years, due in part to the expense of natural ingredients, the fragrance industry’s development and use of synthetic products have increased considerably. (Estimated market figures for several top synthetics are presented in T-1.) In comparison, market figures for naturals (presented in T-2) are rather modest.

To illustrate the point, let’s look at rose, which has a far more extensive history than any synthetic. Rose oil probably was invented more than 1,000 years ago; rose concrete and absolute first were produced about 90 years ago. Yet, despite its long history, the entire natural rose market is far below the market of any of the (newer) major chemicals. Furthermore, this naturals market is fractured among: 

  • Thousands of farmers 
  • A handful of major extracting companies 
  • Hundreds of small producers 
  • Many intermediate companies

Despite the pessimism outlined with these numbers, there is great potential for natural extracts. To begin with, the demand for naturals is growing fast from both consumers who are asking for a return to nature, as well as perfumers who are looking for novel creative ingredients. Secondly, the potential of botanicals appears unlimited. Many materials/species have yet to be discovered and/or exploited, while others currently used in other applications may have use in foods and fragrances, cosmetics, pharmacy, etc. In addition, agricultural processes, including micropropagation, have improved and diversified varieties. Other processes, too, in the preparation of botanicals post-cropping made great strides: drying, fermentation, extraction techniques (using new solvents, for example), etc. The possibilities are, thus, huge—as are the challenges. This will be the subject of my article.

Other topics discussed: Overcoming the challenges--farming, processing, transparency, consumer perspective, sustainability, creativity, safety. 

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