How the fragrance industry is adapting to the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on every aspect of the beauty and personal care industry. Perfumes were one of the sectors touted as being hardest hit during lockdown.

But how has the fragrance sector adapted? We spoke to Eurofragrance CEO, Laurent Mercier, to find out more.

Personal Care: Since the beginning of the year, how has the pandemic situation affected the fragrance sector?

Laurent Mercier: The impact has been significant, from production, shortages of raw materials and air traffic restrictions to store closures. Luckily for us, we have premises in Asia, the first continent to deal with the crisis, so we could apply safety protocols everywhere even before the state of alarm was announced.

We were also able to anticipate border closures in countries that produce raw materials, like India, thus avoiding the shortages other companies and industries have had to face. This is also thanks to our diversified sourcing, which we have been working on for a few years now. But, of course, alcohol has had to be used primarily to make disinfection products like hand sanitiser gels, rather than being used in perfumes, which have taken a back seat.

This readjustment in production has affected the whole industry, as well as the final consumer, who is now prioritising buying hygiene and wellbeing products over perfumes. This is why there has not been a shortage of products. This new situation also brings with it a new business opportunity, as it has driven the creation of products that are now considered essential, such as hand sanitiser gels and face masks: both items in which perfume can be used.

PC: How do you foresee the perfume industry reacting/adapting if social distancing measures continue?

LM: The industry has been backing new ways of testing perfumes for a while now, so in this respect, we have quite a few alternatives in place so that we can respect safety and social distancing measures. What we at Eurofragance call the ‘safe trial’ is already a reality, but will become even more important following the COVID-19 crisis.

Perhaps the most innovative solutions are the so-called ‘touchless’ ones, which combine artificial intelligence and safety. Through technology and the use of various devices, the consumer can try as many perfumes as they like without getting overwhelmed and without the need to touch anything. As well as ensuring safety, these solutions enable us to create a 'scent profile’ for the consumer and offer them or even create products based on their tastes.

Nowadays, the concept of wellbeing and health is present in all categories – home, body care, etc. – and fine fragrance is no exception. This adds another dimension to perfume as we know it. It seems that the act of putting on perfume goes beyond attracting others; it now incorporates this new concept of ‘wellness’ that consumers are asking for. Innovation teams are working hard in this area. More and more perfume brands are emphasising health benefits. A clear example is the integration of aromatherapy into the world of perfume, which opens the door to another use for it.

PC: Fragrances are often linked to social interaction, but do you think there will be more emphasis on the benefits to the individual consumer?

LM: Perfume allows the wearer to attract others, to reflect a certain image or identity, or to show that they belong to a particular group or community. An obvious current example is Gen Z (young people between teenage years and 24) who want to be recognised as individuals while needing to be seen as part of a community at the same time. This is a form of respect for them, and many perfume brands have understood this and are trying to respond to their interests.

This is a common exercise nowadays among niche perfume brands, which try to reach this kind of audience with more customised concepts and more affordable prices through small formats.

All of this brings us to one of the biggest opportunities in the industry: personalisation. This desire to be an individual and stand out with unique products means that consumers also want unique perfumes. It is already possible to create personalised perfumes that express each consumer’s feelings and preferences and distinguish them from the rest. But this trend will continue to develop over the coming years, as new technologies help us to get to know the consumer’s scent profile and even enable them to design their own fragrances.

PC: Are companies such as Eurofragance putting more focus on the multifunctional qualities of fragrances?

LM: Without a doubt. We have been working on this for years and it has huge potential, especially now with the increased concern for hygiene and disinfection.

Today, consumers want it all: products that are good for their health and the environment and that offer wellbeing and safety. At Eurofragance, we do a lot of research into the use of different textures and formats for perfume, sometimes encouraging sustainability through ‘waterless’ products, sometimes using less raw material. We have also worked on products that drastically reduce unpleasant odours, as it is important for consumers to live in increasingly hygienic, sterilised spaces.

PC: Eurofragance spans many countries – has this helped you adapt to the current situation?

LM: Yes: in fact, our quick reaction to the COVID-19 crisis and fast implementation of safety measures were precisely thanks to our international presence. Our branch in Singapore guided us in the design and implementation of the first safety rules and work processes. We were even ahead of the state of alarm, so it was a big advantage having branches on other continents. What’s more, as we already mentioned, having these centres in Asia enables us to avoid the shortages of raw materials caused by border closures in some countries.

Having seven branches in very different countries gives us a better understanding of the types of consumers and how they are reacting to this crisis. In fact, the world is still adapting, and we are continuing to improve our agility, without losing sight of our goals. It’s about adapting the how, but not the why.

PC: How do you envisage market trends in fragrances – particularly in personal care – developing over the next year/two years?

LM: The personal care category is booming right now. With the lockdown and increased concern for hygiene, we have seen a rise in demand for products in this category.

In this area, the most powerful trend is that of natural products, not just from a skin care and health perspective but also from an environmental point of view. More and more, consumers want natural ingredients, less use of chemicals and the environment’s resources (crops, energy, etc.) and more transparency in companies’ corporate social responsibility strategies.

Meanwhile, we are seeing an increasing trend of products with waterless solutions that require less water in their chemical composition and formulation. These solutions have a host of applications (shampoo, gel, lotion, etc.) and are more sustainable, as they require less fragrance and ingredients, resulting in a lighter product.

This situation has not altered our concern for the environment. In fact, it has accelerated it. This concept we call ‘new hygiene’ means being aware that, as well as looking after the planet, we have to look after ourselves and our health, too.

PC: Aside from this situation, what developments are exciting you in fragrances currently?

LM: Sustainability is driving us to innovate, to work in a different way, and is encouraging us to outdo ourselves every day. Nowadays, perfumers and other figures in our industry are very aware that resources are limited, that we have to look after them. To help us to face this challenge, innovation and synthetics are allowing us to limit our use of natural resources, to develop varied, complex fragrances, and to express our creativity.

New technologies are an additional tool in the fragrance development process; thanks to data, they give us a better understanding of the consumer and help us to create increasingly personalised, tailor-made products.