Long time fans and sellers of Yankee Candles, we’re always amazed at how intricate and precise the scent description can be, and wonder how they came up with their ideas. This is an interesting article on how the fragrances are chosen.
Full credit is given to the source:
Sniffing out new markets. Yankee Candle develops scents and ways to deliver them By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff | February 20, 2006
Bob Nelson is known as the King of Fragrance at Yankee Candle Co., and by the end of the year this professional sniffer will have whiffed thousands of obscure scents, from Apple Butter to Candy Cane Forest. Nelson leads Yankee Candle’s fragrance committee, a select group of scent experts who determine what makes it to market as part of the Deerfield company’s premium line of rich-smelling candles. ”Like fine wines and great meals, fragrances are comprised of a complex blend of top, middle, and bottom notes that come together to create a full fragrance experience,” Nelson said.
Some call it an art, others a science, but the business of selecting scents is a meticulous and expensive process that can take up to a year from start to finish. It involves everyone from the scent specialists to the company accountant and the human resources assistant, who get to take samples home and rate them.
The home fragrance industry is also an area in which competition is stiffening, prompting Yankee Candle to shift the way it does business and to hire self-described scent guru Rick Ruffolo to help extend the company’s signature scents into newer, faster-growing categories, such as car gels, electric oil diffusers, and room sprays. ”We need to constantly search for fresh inspiration to create evocative, true-to-life, long-lasting scents,” said Ruffolo, the company’s new senior vice president of brand, marketing, and innovation.
He previously helped launch Bath & Body Works’ White Barn Candle Co. and took the Glade candle brand to market for SC Johnson. Yankee Candle develops about 30 new fragrance candles each year.
The genesis of a new scent typically starts with what’s called a fragrance brief. This document, created by the fragrance group, identifies different fashion, food, and perfume trends, such as a growing interest in natural influences, and lays out sales data, including a jump in sales of fresh or clean fragrances over the past five years. Yankee Candle sends the brief to leading fragrance houses; within a few weeks, the perfumers submit dozens of white wax samples with various scents bottled in small glass jars.
At a typical meeting, the fragrance group tries about 10 samples, sniffing pungent coffee beans in between to clear out lingering candle scents, similar to the way sorbet is used to cleanse the palate between meal courses. The committee doesn’t light the candles during the first step, only smelling the unburned wax, a ”cold smell,” the way consumers will first interact with the candles in stores. ”I was expecting something ooey-gooey delicious,” Doreen Smith, director of design and development, said of the Apple Praline Pie sample during a recent meeting. ”I smelled the chopped nuts; the caramel is really strong. But I wish it was ooey-gooey delicious through the whole experience.”
Most samples never make it past the first stage. But those that smell promising are often sent back to the fragrance houses for tweaking: adding more fruity scents, subtracting nutty aromas, and so forth. After slimming down the choices, the fragrance committee is ready for the next step: the burn room.
The burn room may sound like a torture chamber, but it’s actually a hallway with dark metal closets where candles are lit and the sniffing specialists inhale. The burning wick and heated wax can alter the scent of a candle, leading to further rounds of elimination and more fine-tuning by the fragrance houses.
Some scents are so intricate they are made up of more than 100 ingredients, including fruits and flowers, according to Maria Rizzo, a senior account executive at a leading fragrance house that works with Yankee Candle. New technologies, like electronic sensors, allow perfumers to capture scents from places like Death Valley, the rain forest, or even your laundry room and use odor-matching computer programs to replicate the ”fragrance fingerprint” from man-made and natural ingredients. Such advances have enabled Yankee Candle to unveil products like Fresh Cut Grass that make your living room smell as if you have just mowed the lawn.
After the burn closets, Yankee Candle sends home samples with about two-dozen employees who generally fit the demographics of the company’s consumer base: females between the ages of 25 and 55 years old. Employees burn the candles at home and report back with rankings of how the candles smelled cold, burned, and whether they would purchase the products. Based on the rankings, candles with high marks can move into select stores for test marketing over several weeks.
The committee checks sales data and customer feedback before committing to a national rollout. Before a full launch, candles will sometimes undergo final changes, such as altering the name or changing the color. Country Linen, which initially tested as a light green, is now cream-colored.
While the scent drives sales, the name and color are just as important. Several years ago, the company introduced a Nutcracker candle during the holiday season, but it was presented as bright red wax with no nutty flavors. ”People didn’t know what it was trying to be,” Nelson said. ”There was a disconnect between the name and scent.” In 2003, Yankee Candle brought back the failed product, a rare occasion, but colored it a deeper red and renamed it Christmas Berries.
These days, the scent process is even more critical, because Yankee Candle has expanded its brand into new product areas. Over the last three years, the air fragrance category, which includes plug-in devices and room sprays, jumped 23 percent to $577 million, while candles sales dropped 6 percent to $304 million, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago market research firm.
As rivals, including SC Johnson, introduced popular home fragrance alternatives, like oil diffusers and other battery-powered fragrance devices, Yankee Candle knew it needed to step up to increase profit and lure new customers.
For Yankee Candle, which has built its reputation on its fine-smelling fragrances, it is challenging to translate these scents across different product forms.
The fragrance committee cringed when sniffing the Holiday Sage car freshener, which, unlike the subtle spicy candle, had harsh methanol aromas. The move to new products comes with obvious risk, but Yankee Candle is confident. Rarely has the company ever flopped with one of its products in nearly four decades, except for the infamous Buttered Popcorn candle from 15 years ago, still remembered with shudders from certain committee members. ”Nobody apparently wants their house smelling like popcorn,” Nelson said.
You can see our current selection by clicking HERE.