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Process and product innovation brings aroma chemicals to the fore

by Brandon

A feature in the latest issue of Perfumery & Flavorist looks at the phenomenon by which existing aroma chemicals can make major breakthroughs in popularity, years or even decades after their initial launch.

But what allows this to happen – and why don’t the flavour and fragrance industries focus on completely new aroma ingredients when innovating?

The answer is actually quite simple, but has led to some huge shake-ups of the aroma chemicals industry over the years.

So what are the developments that can lead to aroma chemicals becoming hugely popular long after their original release on to the market?

Process improvements

First of all, a product that has been on the market for longer has had longer for fine tuning and improvements in production processes and techniques.

The synthetic musk aroma Galaxolide is an example of this, first patented in the 1960s but only adopted in substantial volumes during the 1980s.

Why was this? It was all because of the cost and volume of production – a new large-volume facility allowed production costs to be cut, reduced the cost of the finished aroma chemical, and the rest is history.

Product innovation

Sometimes it doesn’t need a change in production, but just innovation in how a fragrance ingredient is used in finished products.

In the case of Iso E Super, which was devised in the 1980s, demand didn’t spike until the following decade after the fragrance chemical was included in a major perfume launch.

After that, demand came in from perfumers all over the world who had reverse-engineered the product to identify the ‘new’ isomers contained within.

Patent expiration

There is a further advantage to rediscovering old aroma chemicals – the patents may have expired, allowing manufacturers around the world to create their own ingredients with the same chemical nomenclature at lower cost.

By opting for these fragrance chemicals, perfumers can still find something distinctive that may have been overlooked in the past, or may be a perfect match for currently developing trends, and build a complex recipe around it.

Of course there is the question of sourcing reliable supplies, just in case the ingredient in question really takes off and sees massive demand from other customers – a good reason to keep new product launches under wraps, too.

What tends to happen is that the prices are dropped just before patents expire and then when new producers come on board, volumes increase as the products are more affordable.

A further factor is hazard labelling – something that has no labelling is more likely to be used extensively.

Aroma chemicals of the future

All of this raises the question – what will be the aroma chemicals of the future? Even industry favourites like Iso E Super and Galaxolide had to start somewhere, and the examples above show that there are several ways for a previously low-demand fragrance ingredient to suddenly surge to the fore of the market.

Synthetic aroma chemicals have their advantages as it may be easier to ramp up production in response to demand, but the same influences can also affect demand for natural fragrance ingredients like essential oils too.

For perfumers it’s a question of whether to watch the market and respond as quickly as possible to any new fragrance chemicals that start to appear in competitors’ products – or whether to take the initiative and see if you can transform the market yourself for many years to come.

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