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Natalie Hutchinson (Fragrance Manager) | 1 Year On

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What were your highlights and drawbacks joining Surfachem and the 2M Group at the start of the COVID pandemic lockdown?

Joining Surfachem in March 2020, the day before the first full UK lockdown, was a very unusual experience. We knew a lot less than we did now. Obviously a very different experience than ‘standard’ due to COVID-19, but I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received from the Surfachem team. The team spirit, friendliness and positivity are really contagious.

A massive plus for me (aside from the people!) has been Microsoft Teams. Even though I have only met a couple of my colleagues in person, having Teams has made me feel like I have met them all. Having the ability to be able to see and hear a person on a screen is far better than just by phone. With Teams, I can be on calls numerous times a day and I think in terms of general metal health, this has been great for us all. My move to Surfachem has been a really positive one, I have had an excellent boss and an excellent team of people who have welcomed me with open arms.


Tell us a bit about yourself

I fell into the fragrance industry by accident when I was leaving university and looking for a graduate job. I packed up and moved down to a town near Cambridge all on my own in my early 20’s. I travelled all over the world throughout my 20’s, in a couple of roles, and when I look back, I was so lucky to have had all the experiences I had through my job. Outside of work, I have 3 horses, who take up a lot of my ‘non-working’ life! I am a real animal lover, I have started equestrian cross country once again (not the running cross country, that is something I cannot do!). I also (during lockdown) have returned to an artistic space and have even had some commissions!


What was it like learning your role virtually?

Very easy, but I think this is because of the role I have come into and the background I have.

I have worked at a Fragrance House of a similar scale to Givaudan before (in my previous role), so that’s been very easy to mirror (the internal happenings!). It is a very similar set up, creation in Paris with perfumers and evaluators, the technical side and the commercial/sales side.

I like to think that I have introduced Surfachem to fragrance in a more holistic way. Looking more in depth into the tools we have to work with, the creative side, the idea generation with customers, trends and insights and how all of those together sell a fragrance. It’s selling an idea and a concept, not a chemical or a commodity.


Tell us about your role and what it has involved in the first year

I love my role. My day to day is very customer focussed. I am on calls with customers, communicating with customers, selling ideas, generating trends presentations, and pulling ideas together. I am identifying gaps in the fragrance portfolio, filling them, ensuring we have the tools to succeed and support our customers in the best way. My role is more diverse than at a Fragrance House. I not only sell, and am involved in the commercials, but I create more. I develop trends and ideas for customers based on what is happening in the world and where the future is heading, build the portfolio, evaluate fragrances to submit to customers, I have 3 roles in one (maybe more!), but it is the diversity of it that I am really happy with.

We work both with the evaluators and perfumers on customer projects and also with our own portfolio of fragrances from Givaudan. If working with our own portfolio (which is very vast and covers over a thousand fragrances), we can have samples over to the customer within days. A standard fragrance house project when briefing to the evaluators and perfumers will take 2-3 weeks at the least, so the benefit of using the portfolio can be key for some customers who need speed!


What do you look forward to post-lockdown?

I am most looking forward to meeting all my colleagues in person! I am also looking forward to getting out on the road again and meeting customers. Fragrance is a very emotive and tactile industry, I want to be smelling our fragrances with our customers, having a chat with them about it, creating something special for their range and really partnering with them in a way that you can do ‘virtually’ to some extent, but the magic really happens when in a room with a customer and in the creative ideation stage. I prefer to be looked at as an extension to their creative team, not just a supplier.


What changes do you expect there be to your role as we come out of lockdown?

I expect office days, travelling days, customer days, innovation in teams, teaching more Surfachem people about fragrance, but in person! One of the biggest things will be smelling together. I’m looking forward to getting out to Givaudan and meeting the teams I have been working with, as they too, have welcomed me with open arms, and we have been working so well together. I am looking forward to travel opening up again and to be able to travel to Paris to their perfumery space. I'm also looking forward to taking customers on Trend Walks in London to really see how we can innovate with them to create new ideas and ranges for them.


What do you think the future of Fragrance looks like? For Surfachem? And the industry as a whole?

When you really think about fragrance, you will start to understand how it touches everyone, multiple times a day. It is in almost all consumer products, and we are surrounded by it. Every Surfachem customer will use fragrance in some way. The potential is actually quite crazy when you think about it. If we work with a skincare brand, a surface cleaner manufacturer, a haircare company. Think about customers who manufacture candles, reed diffusers, baby products, laundry products, car cleaning, I could go on and on.

In terms of the future of fragrance for our customers, I think that we will see the natural and sustainable trend really ramp up. The generation coming through now really has this instilled into them, and make purchasing decisions based on it. I think it will go further than naturals, and firstly we will see a wave of ‘upcycled’ fragrances (fragrances using ingredients which are a waste product or a bi-product) to follow a circular economy model. I then believe we will see this go even further into using bio-technology or producing ingredients which not only don’t harm the environment, but don’t take any natural resources away either. We have already seen the beginning of this with Givaudan’s Scent Trek, where they use headspace technology to replicate the smells of plants and recreate them, so as not to take anything away from nature.

I also see a huge movement towards mental wellness and the use of fragrance to aid better wellbeing. Fragrances will not only smell nice, but also offer an emotional benefit. Whether these are fragrances to induce a positive state of mind, to aid sleep, or to energise, I think we will see a big movement in this space. It is a leap ahead of aromatherapy, it will be centred around medical/scientific testing, such as brain scanning/MRI in the presence of fragrances. I also think there will be a bigger part to play in how fragrances really make people feel. Cosy fragrances filled with warmth and calming influences to make people feel safe and nurtured. Colourful and fresh fragrances which will induce an energetic and positive feeling. A lot will happen in this area.

I also think that aside from consumer products, we will be seeing more of fragrance and I predict this will be in a completely immersive retail space. Bricks and mortar retail is on the decline due to internet shopping, but I think the retail space will begin to evolve due to this. The high street stores will become the physical theatre space for the online arm of the retail sector. We will see these spaces become an immersive sensorial experience for the brands. They will offer strong visuals, paired with every other sensory stimulation you can think of. Sound, touch, taste and really importantly, smell. The sense of smell is linked with the limbic system in the brain (the emotional seat of the brain, and linked heavily to memory) and, therefore, getting fragrance into these experiences actually creates a far greater recall of brands and products, and a huge emotional connection to the brand, instilling far greater customer loyalty. Your favourite shops will have ‘signature’ brand fragrances being vented through the store, and then new products may also have their own individual fragrance translation. It is becoming all about emotional connection and the experience. The experience in store will lead to the online sales through the customers smart phones after having the ‘experiential retail theatre’, which is where the majority of sales will come from over the next decade and onwards.

Tuesday, 08 June 2021