Posted on 19-12-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Fortunately, the human body emits numerous smells considered unacceptable in civilised society. The mega quantity of odour that human bodies produce per day is immeasurable, but whatever small portion has been captured generates a huge amount of business. The $30.5 billion global body fragrances market in 2006 will grow to be $35 billion in 2011. Premium fragrances comprise 60 per cent of the market, women’s fragrances account for 66 per cent of total sales.

It is statistically known that consumption of toothbrush and toothpaste was lower in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal than in northern Europe. I’ve even heard that 50 years ago, French homes used to have only one toothbrush for the whole family. Gauging the potential, American marketers flooded the market with “smiley” toothbrushes and toothpastes, which proved powerful enough to change the “cheesy” French habit. If you are not a cheese connoisseur, you may find little difference between “merde” and Epoisses from Burgundy or Munster from Alsace. The dish called tripe, which is animal stomach offal, smells like ammonia in urine. What does this show? That odour may not always be gentle, a horrible stink is also a selling point. So good or bad smell is not only subjective, it’s a measure of cultural preference too.

Underarms have taken the most strategic advantage in people’s mind. There’s roll-on deodorant costing a dollar to Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty Perfume for Men priced at $435,000 a bottle. The 16.9-ounce limited edition signature scent is the world’s most expensive, presented in handcrafted Baccarat crystal with a 5-carat brilliant-cut diamond. Globally, deodorants will grow from a $11.5 market to 13.5 billion by 2013. Economic prosperity is commensurate with higher social recognition and usage of costly perfumes.

The quality of toilet paper has a strong relationship with affluent living. I remember in my first Parisian job as a lithography print-shop sweeper, the stiff-style, one-side glossy toilet paper used to give me irritation. Going from the Indian water habit, this cultural and physical change was dreadful, but I had no choice. One day, Monsieur Brayer, a famous established painter in France, invited me to his painting atelier. When I went to his toilet, its grandeur overwhelmed me. The toilet paper was called Lotus and it really was softer than lotus petals. And it was wonderfully fragrant. My big discovery was that sweet-scented toilet paper can cover up hygiene, bad smell and replace water usage.

Take a look at how many industries have popped up to address the body’s bad odour sources, including underarms, anus, private body parts, hair, toes and mouth, with multiple scent solutions. Just the mouth has flavoured toothpaste, chewing gum, peppermint, after-mint, mouthwash, even electric toothbrushes to reduce effort, increase comfort. Isn’t it useful that a small, out-of-home, briefcase pack mouthwash can be carried around for use before meeting a client or mistress after a smelly lunch?

In Europe, specialised companies are working for edible food fragrance. Restaurants renowned for their gastronomy spray “roast duck” or “truffled mushrooms” scents just before serving such dishes to their customers. Investigative journalists have recently caught a few famous French restaurants that claim to serve gourmet food made by their specialty chefs who select fresh ingredients by going to market at 4 am everyday. In fact, these restaurants were secretly buying ready-made, beautifully decorated, highly specialised industrial food from one of Europe’s reputed global food brands that has a division for café, hotel and restaurant ready-made food. The industrial food maintains its aroma consistently by using food perfume that’s created by master chefs and reproduced in industrial scale. Rummaging the backdoor dustbins of these sophisticated restaurants, the journalists found the empty containers of packaged industrially produced food and broke the scandal to prove how the public was being duped.

Closed areas such as fashion retails and hotels use fragrance as psychological addiction to get their customers to return. There’s a trend to create sustaining perfumes inside automobiles too. Experts in Europe are working scientifically to create harmless-for-humans industrial aromatics as their living conditions are always closed due to culture and cold weather. Ambient perfume remains for a longer time there, unlike in India where culturally, everybody loves an open situation, and the weather permits people to leave their doors and windows open. For India, ambient perfume has to be treated differently for it to remain for a longer time.

Royalty in every country patronises perfumery as a luxury element. Western nations have taken it to the masses. Names like Obsession, Nude and Intimate perfumes today have a heady association with romance, sex, love, affection. Not to mention aroma candles, overpowering incense sticks and fragrant condoms. It would be interesting to know if kissing intensity has increased post mouthwash innovation. The big plus is that the fragrance industry faces no recession as stress leads to sweat that increases human odour that has to be camouflaged.

Indian ittar or botanical perfumes, derived from Sanskrit sugandha, meaning aromatic, can be traced to the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilisation. But high quality, mass-level fragrance development as per social trends is still at a nascent stage here. This isn’t the technocrat marketing person’s work; it’s the domain of creating intangibles. Fragrance culture requires specialisation that has to be cultivated. Manufacturing companies outsourcing from perfume makers will always be handicapped and dependant, as the alchemy of fragrance will escape them. Unfortunately, the business of fragrance is unrecognised and neglected in India, a mere outsourced process. It’s time we learnt this specialised domain from European experts to drive the huge future opportunities here in food aroma, personal care products and ambient perfume for places like retails, hotels, homes, automobiles, spa, hair dressing salons, gym clubs, offices.

To download above article in PDF The business of human odour

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