Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flavor Is the New Fragrance

INTUITION ALERT: Flavor is the new fragrance. This is what my intuition tells me. And am I just basing this on a vague feeling that I have, with no real outside evidence? Of course. Because I've found these feelings to be purt-near always predictive, even if they hint at a trend years before it takes shape. I'm sure I could find evidence to support this opinion, because there's evidence to be found to support any point of view, and it would be disingenuous to just cherry-pick things from here and there to support any conclusion I want to come to. I'm not interested in doing that right now--I'm not a risk management consultancy.

But I'll say what I can say: The world of fragrance has gotten bloated and overexposed. Every year the companies bring out a new scent, usually some barely-retooled "summer" version of one they already have. Or another forgettable number. Take Escada, for example---how many too-similar perfumes do we need that smell of a tropical fruit bouquet? You'd think they would have stopped from shame alone after putting out a scent named "Tropical Punch." (Disclosure: I loved Tropical Punch. But I never bought it. I bought a $3 fake oil that smelled, thanks to gas chromatography, exactly like it. And the fact that I kept using the oil and bought it again recommends the scent, because often I would buy the oils to see if my initial attraction to the scent lasted--it usually didn't.) That's more down Demeter's alley, what with its scents from Jolly Rancher and all. Maybe it's no accident that candy companies account for so much of Demeter's inventory lately, and that one sponsored Mariah Carey's last perfume endeavour.

The takeaway here is: There are too many fragrances out there. Everything smells the same. The novelty is gone. Even in the big-companies-pretending-to-be-niche-ones putting out themed fragrance sets: Cartier with it's L'Heures, Dolce with its tarot nonsense, blah blah.....

This is not fragrance as art. This is fragrance as profit/loss statement. Perfumers didn't come up with these scents; marketers did, and accountants finished them off. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if perfumers didn't even work on any recent launches: if they're all designed by a computer program. Furthermore, if there ever was boldness in the industry, it's gone now. Who could put out anything interesting without it being watered down by marketing or focus groups or accounting? Who could afford to do so on hir own?

Lastly: saturation. Where is there NOT fragrance? It's been put everywhere except, possibly, the New York subway system. Hotels have fragrances; every celebrity has a fragrance; every well-thought out themed environment is (inoffensively) scented; some offices no doubt pipe into their buildings scents someone told them make people more productive. The only thing fragrance can do is contract. (And is this why The Body Shop hasn't updated its home fragrance oils since it switched to the new design? So long, Steamed Milk, Almond, and all the others. Now it's just solidly mass-appeal Jasmine-&-Whatever, Standard-Issue Linen, Vanilla-"Tonka", etc......)

So where does this leave us with flavor? Well, most obviously: room to grow.

Look at the flavors section on The Perfumers Apprentice website. It's growing well. I've ordered from it, and I love experimenting with the products.

Or look all around you. Restaurants, packaged food products, drinks.... Everywhere there's room for new sensations. Abstract flavors. Floral or earthy flavors. I've had perfumed champagne once, and it was the best champagne I've ever had--it beat the Mo√ęt.

But let's look at a specific example of where flavor is really working for a product: Pringles. Who doesn't love Pringles? If you don't love Pringles, then you're wrong. The original tasted great, but now we have all these new flavors to choose from, and flavors that are only here for a limited time and then are gone. It's exciting. Unlike in perfume, where it's become tedious. I have no interest in trying the latest variation of Liz Claiborne's Curve or even Chanel No. 5. But when I see Rosemary & Olive Oil Pringles, I buy them right away. And if I could find the blueberry Pringles someone mentioned to me, I would buy those too. There's still novelty there. Novelty and fun without the luxury price tag. And the best thing is that every flavor of Pringles still tastes like Pringles. They're Pringles, but different.

Now, that's just one example. This has actually been happening for a while--think of seasonal variations in flavor in hard candy. While not quite the same thing, Starbucks will occasionally introduce a limited flavor for a holiday, with limited (aesthetic) success. (Let's just say that there is a LOT of room for improvement in coffee syrup flavorings. Not only are they too sweet, but the flavors feel scrawny and even harsh. Why must a syrup labeled 'vanilla' taste like something you'd buy at the dollar store when there are probably hundreds of compounds that could be blended to create a fleshed-out vanilla? Why must it taste so bad when extract containing nothing but vanillin and alcohol can sometimes taste great? Is it something in coffee which needs to be masked/blended/otherwise accounted for? Does the formulation of the syrup need changing? Perhaps better syrups will come along.) I say the trend will grow, and hopefully some very interesting flavors will come around before the trend goes all corporate and is crushed by the limited minds that occupy that world.

Anyway, that's what I wanted to say, in my typical fractured style. Flavor is the new fragrance. You can count on that.

POSTSCRIPT: No, I'm not being paid by Pringles. That kind of luck doesn't happen to me. But I do love Pringles, and if anyone from the company that makes them is reading, feel free to send me several cases of the product. I've been practically living on them lately, anyway. Think of it as "supporting the arts." Or the crackpots. Or whatever you wanna think. Flerp!

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