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Key Note Speaker Laura Coelho Interview

When developing a new product, how to do you balance consumer needs with strategy and science?

It always starts with a consumer need.  A lot of times we have an innovation that we think is super cool and we try to force fit it into the market.  I don't think that that works – it’s not very powerful.
First you have to uncover a true consumer need, and from there you can develop or find the innovation.  Strategy and science comes after identifying the consumer need.  And regarding the strategy, you have to ask, is that consumer need something that is truly worthwhile in developing a product, or have the consumers found an acceptable workaround?  Sometimes consumer needs can be fairly niche, and you may not want to invest the money into a new product for that small niche.
What really makes a powerful new launch is when you start with a consumer need that simply hasn’t been found, addressed or recognized, and you can develop a good solution by using science and brand strategy – does it make sense for you, your company, your brand, etc.

Are naturals truly a trend, or is it a change in consumer mindset?

It’s both.  I've been in the industry for over 30 years and naturals have always been a subject of conversation.  There has absolutely been an increasing interest and demand over the years for more naturals in consumer products – be they call outs or certifications.  However there is a misperception with consumers regarding chemicals – that all chemicals are bad – which means that we as an industry need to be more proactive in educating consumers.  Chemicals do not necessarily equal bad.  You can’t survive without chemistry, just like we can’t survive at this point without electricity.  We need to strengthen consumer trust in conventional fragrances and flavors – naturals and synthetics.
Naturals are here to stay – the question is in what capacity?  Are they added as the unique, special twist that only Mother Nature can provide, which adds interest and makes the product relatable?  Or is it this all-or-nothing, all-natural type of product?    

Where is there most opportunity for growth in flavors & fragrances?

I think there is strong opportunity around true innovation, disruptive innovation even, resulting from advances in digital technology.  It’s amazing what we're now able to do, but I don't think that we, as an industry, have tapped into the new technological frontier as of yet.  For example, consider break throughs like AI, biotechnology, neuroscience, ways of sourcing new materials and truly harnessing the tools of the digital age.  Understanding that all of us, as flavor & fragrance suppliers, have lots of consumer data but it tends to sit in databases.  Is it possible to assimilate that and really learn from it?  All of these burgeoning digital opportunities are the real area for growth, to fight commoditization, and to manage this regulatory environment.  We do need to use the computing power available to us.

What are the biggest challenges we face as a flavor and fragrance industry?

There are so many, but I think that the biggest challenge is regarding the regulatory environment – not only in the US but around the world.  Each country, region and even state legislators are creating their own set of rules around our products, and it’s become very difficult to keep everyone happy.  It takes increasing resources to simply keep up, and these resources could be used for innovation and creativity.

How do you evaluate scent trends, and how do they become a state of mind with consumers?

Our trend tracking starts with regular, deep conversations with 1000’s of consumers globally. We then use our knowledge of the fragrance market to imagine how the lives described by the consumers now will drive or change the fragrance preferences of the future.
We classify trends as mainstream and emerging; mainstream being a trend that is already somewhat established but we expect to continue, emerging being a very new trend with only early adopters currently on board. We also bucket fragrance trends into larger consumer trends; examples of this would be how the Natural Fragrance trend fits into the overall interest in Health and Wellness, or how the increasing popularity of Cooking Shows drives dreamy gourmand scents.
At Symrise we have been tracking trends for many years and it’s rewarding to see predictions from 5 years ago evidenced in the market today.

What else should we be paying attention to as an industry?

It’s important that we as an industry pay attention to renewability and sustainability, and do our best to promote that to our customers and to consumers.  There is a belief that naturals are better for the environment, when in actuality they are often less sustainable than nature identical, conventional ingredients.  Somehow we need to get to a place where renewable, good for the ecology, sustainable – that these things have consumer value too.  Mother Nature is great for that unique twist, but renewables and sustainable also need to be brought to the forefront and promoted.

What does Symrise hope to achieve and what can we see happening over the next few years with regards to the future of fragrances?

Symrise’s strategy is to harness the power of digitization capacities in AI, neuroscience and beyond, and to use them to create the next revolution in fragrance.  Prior to 1874, all fragrances were natural, and synthetic chemistry as applied to fragrance raw materials didn’t exist.  In 1874 Symrise created the first synthetic fragrance compound – a nature identical synthetic vanillin– and a new world opened up for Perfumery.  We’re again working hard to bring the next disruption in the Fragrance Industry to life!