While vacationing last month in Aruba, Michael Papas ran on the beach at different times each day, hoping to sniff out new tropical aromas for the cleaning-product fragrances he creates.
"At one time everyone wanted these clean, traditional scents, but now consumers want a whole experience when they're doing their laundry or washing their floors," says Mr. Papas, an executive perfumer at Givaudan SA, GIVN.VX +0.54% which works with manufacturers to create scents for products.
Forget lemon and pine. People are fumigating their homes with exotic essences of ginger and hibiscus while scrubbing floors and bathtubs. That's because packaged-goods makers, in their endless hunt for the new and improved, are ramping up the complexity of product fragrances. Adding an elaborate bouquet that consumers crave to a product line helps build loyalty, marketers say.
Windex's Magic Meadow scent smells like "fresh greens, morning dew and white jasmine." Mr. Clean has New Zealand Springs, promising "ferns, forests and glacier-carved waterfalls."
No matter that consumers may not know what a glacier-carved waterfall actually smells like. "They're fanciful. You want to evoke a feeling or emotion, like when you're out in a meadow," says Deborah Betz, a senior fragrance development manager at International Flavors & Fragrances, an industry supplier. "It doesn't have to smell like an actual meadow."
Scent trends once progressed into consumers' homes along a path that began with perfume, moved to soaps and then to room fresheners, laundry products, dish soap and finally cleaners. Now, more scents are leaping immediately from perfume counter to under-the-sink cupboard.
Advances in chemistry have made more varied and intricate cleaning-product scents possible. New surfactants and solvents that have boosted cleaning efficacy over the years also tend to have less odor than older formulas that used bleach and ammonia. Consumers have gradually accepted that cleaning products work even without a chemical smell.
Proctor & Gamble
Mr. Clean's New Zealand Springs promises 'ferns, forests and glacier-carved waterfalls.'
When working on a fragrance for laundry detergents or fabric softeners, Mr. Papas tests using a rigorous regimen. First, the scent must give off an inviting bloom from the bottle's plastic cap, to win over a shopper sniffing in the store aisle. Pouring the product into a washing machine should deliver an even bigger, more pleasant waft, Mr. Papas says. The scent must be immediately noticeable when removing clothes from the washer, and it must survive the heat of a dryer. Finally, it should linger on clothes that have been folded and placed in a drawer.
There's a different dynamic in floor cleaners. "You need that bloom as soon as it hits the water," says Mr. Papas. "Then it should offer a satisfying dry down after it's used."
Chemistry breakthroughs have helped companies employ the same scent across different products. Someone who loves a fragrance in a laundry detergent might also buy it in a floor cleaner, a dish soap and a disinfectant. In 2004, Procter & Gamble introduced a lavender-vanilla scent in Downy fabric softener, and a year later in Tide detergent. Today, P&G's lavender-vanilla fragrance spans Mr. Clean bathroom cleaner to Swiffer sweepers to Febreze fabric refresher.
Cleaning-product perfumers monitor food exhibitions, farmers' markets, architecture, runway fashion shows and even bars for new ideas. "All the pomegranate you see today in home products started as a popular ingredient at gourmet food fairs," says Ana Paula Mendonca, creative director of the "olfactive design studio" at IFF.
Method's pear-and-ginger scented products by Orla Kiely for Target
Ms. Betz says she often brings a popular fine fragrance to her perfumer colleagues and asks them to recreate it in a cleaner. Estée Lauder Cos.' fragrance Calyx has influenced many complex cleaning scents, as has Dior's J'adore, she says. Ralph Lauren's Polo Blue is another big force. "You get this marine smell of fresh air, with a touch of lavender and woodiness," Ms. Betz says. "Those notes are very desirable in cleaners."
Runway trends also are influential. Ms. Betz and her team are working on scents for cleaners that incorporate a popular color this year, bright-orange. The scents will go beyond simply citrus. "You're going to see citrus but with other notes—a citrus bouquet—and you're going to see more combinations with tropical notes," she predicts.
For the bluebell fragrance in Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day product lineup, Pam Helms, chief innovation officer for SC Johnson & Son's Caldrea unit, says fashion inspired the choice, "We looked at what kinds of colors are important right now, and navy is really big."
Getty Images (candle); iStockphoto (6)
Food is influential, too. Next month, Method Products will launch cleansers in Target stores inspired by fashion designer Orla Kiely. Method developed a pear-ginger scent to accompany Ms. Kiely's vibrant pear-patterned bottles of all-purpose cleaner, dish soap and hand wash. Americans' increasing demand for ginger and other nontraditional cooking ingredients, as well as Ms. Kiely's design, shaped the fragrance choice, Method says. Five years ago, raw ginger was hard to find, says Don Frey, Method's vice president of product development. "Now you'll find it at almost any big grocery store in the country."
Not all food, of course, smells good in a cleaning product, he says. "We've learned that people don't want to clean their kitchens with something that smells like cooked food, but they will clean with something that smells like raw food," he says. Cooked-food perfumes—such as baked apple or caramel—get confused with actual cooking aromas.
For Method's pear-ginger cleaning spray, Mr. Frey wanted the pear fragrance to smell fresh without being too sugary. The addition of ginger helped balance it, he says. "Anything that smells too juicy you associate with your fingers being sticky, which you don't want on your countertops."
S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
The Windex Magic Meadow fragrance has 'fresh greens, morning dew and white jasmine'
Chocolate is surging in popularity but remains a bit of a reach for cleaning products. Though it's a trendy aroma in body sprays and soaps and it is catching on in candles, "whenever we test it in cleaners it always bombs, says IFF's Ms. Betz. "It's just not so clean and fresh."
Naming cleaning-product fragrances can be as nuanced as concocting them. Consumers tend to love hints of banana in their cleaning products. "But if you put it on the label, it doesn't work," says Steve Nicoll, an IFF senior perfumer. "Papaya is the same way. It's so unexpected that they can't accept it, yet the smell they like."
Lavender works in reverse. "People like the idea of lavender but don't tend to like the real thing," says Ms. Betz. Most of the lavender-scented products are actually lavender "fantasies," an industry term for a hint of a scent that is combined with others. Lavender is usually combined with fruit, floral, woody or vanilla notes, she says.
More on the Complexity of Household Products
Fragrance names conveying texture help win over shoppers and add a whiff of sophistication. Just as fine fragrances incorporate textures into their names, notably Donna Karan's popular "Cashmere Mist," so, too, do cleaners. Commonplace names like "Berry Burst" are all but gone, says Mr. Nicoll. "Now it's called 'Velvet Raspberry.' "
Karen Adams, of Orange, Conn., uses lavender-scented cleaners for her windows, mirrors, laundry and sink, and lavender-scented bleach, too. "Cleaning is such a mundane task and not anything that I love doing," says Ms. Adams, who helps run a fragrance fan club called Sniffapalooza. "I try to find any way to make it more pleasant."
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