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New scents give cleaning-product makers a whiff of success

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Roger Howell is chief perfumer at Alpha Aromatics at RIDC Park in O’Hara. They create unique fragrances for a  local and national manufacturers of cleaning products.
Roger Howell is chief perfumer at Alpha Aromatics at RIDC Park in O’Hara. They create unique fragrances for a local and national manufacturers of cleaning products.

Before she cleans a client's home, Liz Phillips finds out how they prefer their kitchen and bathroom to smell.

“People relate and identify with scents,” says Phillips, who founded Golden Touch Professional Services after leaving the real-estate industry when she became a new mom.

“Part of my questionnaire in building my customer profile is, ‘What scent do you like? Is there a certain scent that you prefer?' ”

Lately, the most popular answer is “lavender.” Phillips of Braddock Hills also gets requests from clients for the aromas of linen or tropical fruit.

While clean to some consumers still means the astringent tang of Pine Sol or the eye-watering whiff of bleach, the olfactory palette of household products is expanding. Manufacturers are tempting consumers with new and complex scents that traditionally were associated with air fresheners, shower gels or scented candles. Aromachology, or the application of environmental scent on mood, is driving marketers and manufacturers to devise more complex aromas that are designed to evoke rain forests, gardens, mountaintops and the beach.

Procter and Gamble has a new line of Dawn dish soap called Dawn Destination. The scents include Mediterranean Lavender, New Zealand Springs and Thai Dragon Fruit. Clorox has a line of Green Works products that includes a “Water Lily” scent. The S.C. Johnson Co. has added Multi-Surface Glade Magic Meadow to their line of Windex products. It boasts the scent of “fresh greens, morning dew and white jasmine.”

Unlike more perfumey antecedents, these new compounds don't simply mask other less desirable smells.

“Mr. Clean has a really good line of products that has the lavender or tropical scent,” Phillips says.

At Alpha Aromatics at RIDC Park in O'Hara, they sometimes refer to scents as “olfactory destinations.” The family-owned firm creates 50 new fragrances per week. Their inventory includes over 10,000 unique aromas. Their clients include local and multinational makers of household cleaning products.

The company also supplies the entertainment and perfume industry. They can create a buttered-popcorn scent that can be subtly diffused into the air at a movie theater. And they developed a signature fragrance for Victoria's Secret that will be launched this spring.

“Scent, so far as we can tell, is the sense that's most closely related to memory,” chief operating officer Ray Czapko says. “Just about every person can cite an experience where they actually smelled something, and it takes them to some place or some spot in time.”

A manufacturer can heighten its company's visibility by adding a new scent to the same product.

“You can double your footprint just by adding a fragrance,” Czapko says. “They can get more shelf space by adding another product.”

“Back in the day, there were these typical fragrances,” Alpha Aromatics president Arnold Zlotnik says. “They were really not totally single note. They were a type of floral, very recognizable. Tide had a particular fragrance, Gain had a particular fragrance.”

The calming scents often found in bath and body products have found their way into cleaning products, says Roger Howell, chemist and chief perfumer at Alpha Aromatics. He uses gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and his well-calibrated sense of smell to create scents ranging from laundered linen, chocolate cookies, lavender-chamomile and roast beef and potatoes.

“It's not just the feel of clean anymore,” Howell says. “It's also a feel of the emotion of feeling good. It's taking you away from your current environment. While you're cleaning, you're now thinking of being in a tropical island somewhere.”

Deborah Betz, a senior fragrance-development manager at International Flavors & Fragrances, says the country's Hispanic population has a significant influence on the market. Recent census data indicates that the Hispanic population more than doubled to 50.5 million in 2010, from 22.4 million in 1990.

“They're actually launching traditionally Hispanic products into the United States,” Betz says.

“Clorox has a line that's marketed in Latin America called Poett,” Betz says. “What they decided to do is relaunch it in the United States as Fraganza. It's selling very, very well.”

Hispanics tend to use stronger fragrances in their homes, Betz says.

Fabuloso, an all-purpose cleaner marketed in Latin America by Colgate-Palmolive, is being used by more non-Hispanic consumers in the United States. Scents include Lavender, Passion of Fruits and Ocean Paradise.

“Fresh marine notes are very hot,” Betz says. “Very fruity scents are very hot, too: berries, apples, melon.”

When it comes to cleaning products, some upscale perfumes can also set the tone.

“J'Adore is a huge inspiration on a lot of different home-care products such as air fresheners and cleaners,” Betz says.

Expect more boutique cleaning products to enter the market, Betz says. She cites Method, a California-based line of natural personal-care products.

“They're kind of niche-y, and they have very fancy packaging,” she says. “They'll have very experiential fragrances like pear and really fancy, fruity smells. I think those niche marketers are going to affect the mass marketers. You're probably going to see less of the heavy-duty stuff.”

William Loeffler is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7986.

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