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World of fragrance31st of October 2012
We all have our favourite aromas – but could our air freshener preferences be partly governed by where we live? Ann Laffeaty asks manufacturers about the geographical breakdown of their sales to find out whether or not our roots determine our preferences for certain scents.
Aroma preferences are notoriously difficult to pin down. It is hard to put a finger on the reasons why some fragrances will appeal quite strongly to us, while others may make us recoil. And of course, the perfume industry would be nowhere near as vast or profitable if everyone liked the same scent. But this hard-to-quantify element of the market makes it particularly challenging for air freshener manufacturers when trying to come up with products that will please all their customers.
In an ideal world they would like to be able to offer a streamlined range of aromas with a universal appeal. But it seems that very few fragrances are appreciated by all of us. And when looking at people’s aroma preferences from a geographical point of view, some patterns begin to emerge. For it seems that our predilection for certain fragrances is partly governed by where we live.
According to Signature Aromas managing director Brian Chappell there is some logic to these apparent regional preferences.
“Marachino Cherry is a popular fragrance in Cyprus and the Middle East because it leaves behind a trace element of almond which is grown in these regions,” he said. “Citronella sells well in warmer countries, perhaps because it helps to repel insects. And in the UK our Cut Grass product is very popular, since what could be more evocative on a spring day in Britain than the smell of a newly-mown garden?
“Another of our biggest sellers in the UK is Green Apple, while as you move towards the north of Europe the preferred scents tend to become more woody. Meanwhile in hotter countries such as Angola we have found Vanilla to be popular, perhaps because it is used a great deal in food dishes over there.
“At the end of the day people are going to react to the familiar scents they come across in their own area.”
Vectair marketing manager Matthew Wonnacott agrees that aroma preferences tend to mirror the social and cultural experiences of different nationalities. “In the US there is a demand for traditional fragrances that are fresh yet familiar and comforting, with Apple Pie and Citrus being among our best-sellers,” he said.
Climate and interiors
He adds that strong, musky fragrances tend to be exclusively liked by customers in the Middle East. “This is not just about culture preference - the choice is also determined by the climate and interior conditions,” he said. “For example, it is incredibly hot in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and air conditioning units are common in most, if not all establishments. This means that the fragrances used there need to be strong and powerful to not only reflect cultural preferences but also the climate and interior conditions.”
Tork manufacturer SCA has a streamlined air freshener range and offers only four aromas throughout Europe: Floral, Citrus, Apple and Fruit. However again there are marked differences between regional preferences according to product manager hand hygiene and care Peter Bergman.
“We have found that around 65 per cent of UK customers who use our A2 tag air freshener system choose the Apple fragrance compared with only four per cent in Russia and one per cent in Scandinavia,” said Bergman. “Also our Citrus automatic air freshener fragrance is heavily favoured by France, Italy and Spain compared with only nine per cent in the UK.”
Head of product management for Hagleitner Dr Georg Steiner says it can be difficult to offer a sufficiently wide range of fragrances to suit all tastes.
“There does tend to be a geographical split between fragrance preferences, and the reason for this comes down to historical developments and personal differences,” he said. Like Chappell he claims that strong, sweet scents are a particular favourite in the Middle East, whereas customers in southern Europe tend to prefer floral fragrances.
Marketing executive for P&L Systems Francesca Hay is also of the view that the Middle Eastern market is distinctly different from that of Europe. “Our Concept and Precious ranges are particularly popular in the Middle East where strong, sophisticated fragrances are liked,” she said. The company has noticed other geographical trends, too: “Our Winter product seems to sell very well in Germany.”
However geographical position is not the only motivating force for customers, says Hay. “We find that fragrance preferences vary depending on the location that needs to be fragranced,” she said. “For example, customers wanting to fragrance the lobby of a five-star hotel will choose a premium fragrance from our Precious range to create an air of luxury.
“Cafe Latte is a popular choice in cafes and coffee shops, while our Concept range tends to be used in spa and health clubs to create a relaxing environment. Also, customers whose main business is washroom servicing often choose a fragrance that signals cleanliness and hygiene such as Fresh Linen or Lemon Fresh.”
Vectair’s Matt Wonnacott concurs with the view that the environment in which an air freshener is to be used is at least as important as geographical location. “In women’s and men’s washrooms in Europe, for example, fragrances tend to follow the wider fashion for designer perfumes and aftershaves respectively,” he said.
Signature Aromas’ Brian Chappell adds: “One can’t necessarily say: ‘These people don’t like this or that aroma because they are Russian’. It is also a question of the customer’s individual taste and the environment for which the fragrance is intended.
“For example, we are planning to attend a boutique hotel show and are expecting enquiries from that for our more perfume-based aromas, since these are perceived to be more upmarket than lemon and apple fragrances. And we see a general trend in Europe away from more sophisticated, perfume-style aromas and towards more natural scents.”
He says this demand for natural products extends beyond the choice of fragrance. “Customers are far more interested these days in whether scents are natural than what they actually smell like,” he said. “Instead of looking at chemical or aerosol-based aromas, customers are becoming more concerned about whether the unit and packaging are biodegradable at the end of their life. We often have to state this at the tender stage.”
He adds that healthcare and transport managers are among those customers showing a particular preference for natural products. “One hospital group we deal with has banned aerosols altogether while one of our railway customers will only use natural oils,” he said. “Meanwhile, another railway company will not use any aerosols that can seep into the ground because of their impact on the water table. That’s a new one on us.”
According to Chappell another factor concerning customers is battery life in automatic air freshener systems. “If you use four batteries in a year, that’s a massive difference to using one a year when you come to dispose of them,” he said.
Vectair’s Matthew Wonnacott agrees that there is an increasing move towards more sustainable systems. “Trends appear to show that a growing number of users are swapping traditional aerosol refills for biodegradable ceramic fragrance blocks such as our Omniscent system, or our wick-based V-Air dispenser which works with no propellant or aerosol,” he said.
But is there scent that everyone in Europe likes? “Actually it is difficult to find a scent that everyone in the same room likes,” says Chappell. “This is a standard problem with the air freshener market. But Baby Powder is fairly universally popular, presumably because it reminds us all of us of our childhood or of our early days of parenting.”
According to Hagleitner’s Dr Steiner, the company’s Marine scent also tends to be universally popular. P&L Systems Francesca Hay adds: “Fruity aromas such as clementine, green apple and lemon are all very familiar fragrances that are generally popular with customers everywhere.”
Citrus is also a fairly universal best-seller says Matthew Wonnacott, particularly for use in the washroom. He adds that matching fragrances to customer requirements is a matter of carrying out research and staying on top of emerging trends.
“Our philosophy is to provide a range of products that use the most popular top notes as well as on-trend fragrances such as aromatherapy blends,” he said.
“We typically spend two to three years investigating a target country and this includes researching fragrance preferences, looking to see what is currently available and developing products to fill any gaps in the market. We then use this data to test fragrances on and off site before going to launch, ensuring the fragrances fit the bill with our customers in terms of both aroma and strength.
“We shouldn’t forget, however, that scent has the power to evoke strong memories and emotions - arguably making it the most personal of the senses. And this means there will always be an element of personal preference.”