Sustainability in the flavour and fragrance industry
Interview with world-renowned perfumer, Serge Majoullier
Imagine a job that requires you to travel all over the world, discovering new flavours and exotic aromas from plants, flowers, fruits and anything else you can find within nature!
No, it’s not a dream — this is reality for internationally acclaimed perfumer Serge Majoullier.
Serge Majoullier showing to farmers in Nepal how to get an olfactive extraction from their raw materials
Serge’s main activities are to create perfumes and discover new flavours from raw materials that he discovers on adventures around the world.
“Nature is my main source of inspiration.”
Serge was born in Grasse, in the South East of France where his company MANE is headquartered. After his studies of chemistry and economics, he started to work in the analysis and chromatography service at MANE, then for the department of essential oils and floral products before becoming a perfumer.
He became the Director of the fragrance department between 1995 and 2002, focusing his energy on creation, fragrances and research on new extraction methods and the development of new raw materials. Among his numerous creations: Prodigieux the perfume for NUXE; Elle l’aime from Lolita Lempicka; Karl by Karl Lagerfeld and Bonbon from Viktor & Rolf.
We were lucky enough to interview him in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower about his purpose and his thoughts on sustainability & social impact within the Flavour and Fragrance industry.
1. Could you introduce yourself and your path to become a world renowned perfumer:
“Born and raised in Grasse, in the South of France, I started by studying chemistry, sciences and economy without knowing what I wanted to do really. My father was a perfumer but as a ‘rebel child’ I never thought of following my dad’s path. Also, this job was not really common. During my childhood, my dad would always teach me really interesting facts about fragrances and flavours which got me hooked later. Indeed, after my studies I started to work at MANE in the chromatography department (a technique that separates chemical elements). At that time, I was already really interested in discovering new flavours and fragrances like my father. So I changed my mind and listened to my dad’s advice. I thought that even if it did not work out for me that way, I could start working again in the chemistry departments.
To become a perfumer, there was no pre-defined training at the time but I was lucky to already be in the industry and to have been given support by my father. What interested me the most was to study raw materials that appeared at first as a unit product and to realise that each one of them is made of thousands and thousands of different molecules. I also wanted to learn the characteristics of each geographic regions and how they could impact raw materials, essential oils, flavours and fragrances.
Having said that, I did not become a perfumer in a day. Indeed, it takes years and years to become a good one! I started then by working on the analytical sides of projects, I was researching different parameters to source new raw materials (legalities, prices, best geographic regions to source the raw materials etc.) I then arrived in the fragrances department. My curiosity and MANE pushed me in that direction. To sum-up, I spent 1 year working on analytical aspects, then 5 years on raw / natural materials before heading to the fragrances department.”
2. What does it take to be a perfumer?
“My job as a perfumer or ‘nez’ (= nose in French) is split into two roles: to create flavours for the FMCG industry and fragrances for luxury and cosmetics brands and to source new raw materials that will be used in my creations. I started working at MANE in 1976 and I am still learning about fragrances and flavours. It takes years to start to know how to mix raw materials to make good blends. Not only you need to confront your senses to many raw materials before knowing how to mix them but you have to learn again what are the real flavours of some raw materials that you believed you knew from before.
Also, sometimes it could take 10 years to see one on the market. You have to test the smell, sort out legalities etc. and it takes a long time.
What’s more, it’s a really competitive job. There are only 120 real perfumers in the world. There 20 working for MANE in based mostly in Paris and New York. And we all are in competition to win contracts sent by brands we’re working with. We all start to work in the same brief and after, it’s a matter of understating the brief well, but also a matter of connections.”
3. How do your peers perceive you?
I love challenging myself and working on projects I do not know anything about at first.
“Obstinate, stubborn: To give you an example, I started building a house and I made everything: from the construction to the plumbing on my own, following online tutorials etc.
A bit crazy sometimes: you need to admit that building a house on your own without knowing anything is a bit bold…
Sportive: I love mountaineering, I climbed many high mounts such as the Mont Blanc (highest peak in Europe) in Switzerland.”
4. How do you see the future of sustainability in your industry?
“When we source raw materials from developing countries, our main objectives are to adapt our processes to the farmers’ habits in order to maintain their cultures and habits. We also aim at improving their daily lives by providing stable income from the purchase of the crop to contribute to their basic needs (such as water, social interactions etc.) and to become independent. To do so, we partner with NGOs and organisations on the ground that make the connections between our teams and the small farmers in order to ensure good quality products and sustainable value chains.
Besides, we developed GREEN MOTION™, an assessment method in order to measure how compliant with the principles of Green Chemistry our products are. The objective is to limit and to control the amount of chemicals we use in order to keep our fragrances and flavours green.
We hosted a conference on GREEN MOTION™ and a roundtable discussion on designing green fragrances during the 2016 World Perfumery Congress held in Miami from June 12th to 15th. We presented our Jungle Essence™ extraction method, and exhibited sustainably sourced raw materials.”
So can the fragrance industry become more sustainable?
Companies working in the fragrance and flavor industry such as Givaudan or IFF) have tremendous ways to use their business as a force for good: implementing sustainable value chains, using chemicals that are safe for the environment, educating and working with the communities in the regions they are sourcing their raw materials etc.
As a top leader in the fragrance industry, MANE is very proactive in making their operations more sustainable. For instance, they have committed to 1.sustainably source their raw materials and to develop chemical processes that are safe for the environment thanks to their 2. GREEN MOTION™ tool and app they developed >>
1. They recently showcased sustainably sourced raw materials derived from their focus on developing conscious sourcing partnerships, an initiative tagged ‘GIVING SOUL TO SCENTS’ at their WPC stand. With our help, they staged their first project in Nepal to help remote pepper farmers to get a more sustainable living. These farmers grow a very unique species of pepper called Timur that has never been used in the fragrance industry before. This project has created an entire market for this product and has helped the economy of the country to grow. Below is one of the videos we created to document the work of MANE with the pepper farmers in Nepal, featuring Serge Majoullier.
2. Besides conscious sourcing, MANE has developed an electronic environmental assessment tool — GREEN MOTION™ — ‘to assess ingredients or fragrance compounds’ environmental impact according to the twelve principles of green chemistry, on a 0 to 100 scale. The GREEN MOTION™ tool can be used by different companies from various industries: pharmaceutical, fine chemistry, natural products, biotechnology etc. The process is very simple, it provides in less than 30 minutes a measure of the impacts on the environment of the raw material.
The fragrance industry widely developed during the course of the 20th century at a time of significant improvements in chemistry. Back then, we did not know how to measure our impacts on the environment. Making safe products for was not a priority. But the world has changed, we know that if continue to do business the same way as generations ago, our planet will not survive.
The fragrance industry has started to take these parameters into consideration by building conscious value chains, working hands-in-hands with the communities around their plantations, measuring their impacts on the environment through innovative tools, using safer chemicals, helping to repair roads for farmers etc. BUT there are still many progresses that can be done. Let’s make the 21st century, the era of significant improvements in CONSCIOUS & SUSTAINABLE chemistry and sourcing.