When it comes to the senses of taste and smell, the city of Geneva has a nose for playing a pioneering role.This content was published on March 2, 2004 - 10:43
It is home to two giants of the flavours and fragrances industry which together account for around 30 per cent of the global market.
One is the family-owned Firmenich company, but the world leader is Givaudan, whose aim is to be the dominant industry force both in sales and profitability.
Peter Wullschleger, Givaudan’s head of investor and media relations, puts it slightly differently.
“Behind Givaudan is a business that wants to make the world taste and smell better,” he told swissinfo.
Natural and synthetic
Givaudan is the name behind such classic perfumes as “L’Air du Temps” by Nina Ricci and “Opium” from the house of Yves St Laurent. Fragrances have also been put together for supermodels Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell.
The company is justly proud that it is the only industry player to have its own perfumery school. Founded in the cradle of modern perfumery at Grasse in southern France, it is now located in Paris.
“Today we take in three to four students a year selected out of 200-250 applicants,” said Wullschleger.
“A perfumer who comes out of our perfumery school knows at the end of his studies 3,000 to 4,000 natural and chemical ingredients. He knows how they interact and he knows how to create new, surprising, sensual perfumes,” he added.
Givaudan teams go on what are termed “ScentTreks”, which allow researchers to capture exotic, natural fragrances from the far corners of the globe with the help of portable equipment. This is then used to analyse and recreate the fragrances back in the laboratory.
“You find fragrances all over. You have them in the luxury perfumes, of course. And then, of course, you find fragrances in all kinds of everyday household products: hair care, shampoos, detergents, soaps, shower gels… simply everything that makes your daily life smell better,” said Wullschleger.
Sworn to secrecy
While it is no secret that Givaudan is behind some of the world’s most successful perfumes, the company is sworn to secrecy when it comes its other products.
“In the food domain and in household products, our customers do not want to dilute their brands by having a little sticker on the side saying ‘Givaudan’, and that’s the reason why I am not entitled to talk about our customers.”
“But you can assume that all big food and beverage companies in the world and all the big consumer product companies, the multinationals that sell from South America to Asia/Pacific, are all our customers,” Wullschleger told swissinfo.
Givaudan’s 100 flavourists are constantly travelling the world searching for new tastes from the natural world.
“With a successful flavour, nature always has the lead. We analyse how things taste in nature and we try to enhance them,” said Wullschleger.
“For example, the end consumer wants a strawberry yoghurt to taste like it has fresh strawberries but that’s not possible because in a strawberry yoghurt you have cooked strawberries.”
“So we add all the ingredients which have been lost when the strawberries were cooked and therefore it smells and tastes like a yoghurt with fresh strawberries,” he added.
Givaudan’s flavour division has four units - beverages, confectionery products, dairy products and savoury products.
You can find the company’s flavours in soft drinks, fruit juices, baked goods, chewing gum, chocolate, ice cream snacks, soups, sauces, meats and poultry… to name but a few.
Givaudan says that flavour creation means turning a formula based on single, well-defined chemicals or extracts, distillates, process flavours or other complex mixtures of molecules into a harmonious blend of ingredients.
Several thousand ingredients are known to man, with roughly 2,000 in regular use.
It’s perhaps tempting to take our senses of smell and taste for granted but they play a vital role in our everyday lives.
“I think nature would not have given us 350 genetic receptors in our nose if taste and smell were not important. A lot of people think they do things with their mouths but they do it actually with their nose,” explained Wullschleger.
“In our mouths we just have 25 genetic receptors to detect the basic tastes like bitter, sour, salty and sweet. But all the rest we do with our nose.”
“You feel that best when you catch a cold and your nose is blocked. You say to yourself that food tastes flat and this is because the nice taste of steak or apple can no longer go up in your nose and be detected by these genetic receptors,” he added.
Givaudan’s address should not come as a surprise to anyone with a nose for detecting fine fragrances. It is “chemin de la Parfumerie”.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Vernier, near Geneva
Léon Givaudan, encouraged by his brother Xavier, founded the company in 1898.
But through one of its units, Givaudan can trace roots back to the French Revolution.
The Roche pharmaceutical company of Basel acquired Givaudan in 1963.
Givaudan was spun off from Roche in June 2000 to once again be an independent company, traded at the Swiss Stock Exchange.
In 2002 the company acquired Nestlé’s flavour business FIS.
Givaudan announced on Tuesday a net profit for 2003 of SFr216 million ($170.23 million), down by 15.6 per cent on 2002.
The company, which is heavily exposed to currency movements, blamed the weak dollar and higher raw material prices for hurting its margins.
Sales for 2003 were SFr2.715 billion, up by 1.5 per cent on the previous year.
The company board is proposing a total dividend payout of SFr15.40 per share.
Givaudan has said it is well positioned for a “good performance” in 2004.
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