Switzerland’s “Silicon Valley” is booming in the era of big data


European company update

Has artificial intelligence determined your smell?

Before the pandemic, it smelled very good in the United States: in consumer products such as shampoos or detergents, the increasing trend in the smell of fruits—even caramel—has become noticeable. What caused this unpleasantness is unclear.

But there are signs of change. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way people want themselves, their clothes, and their houses to smell—not just in the United States. Now people want to believe that everything they touch is clean-even disinfected. The astringency of rubbing alcohol is ubiquitous and has been incorporated into the public’s sense of smell, keeping pace with citrus, menthol, and smells such as hygiene signs.

The things people like to smell are always changing-slower than earthquakes, but with huge commercial consequences. We rarely stop to think about how much of our environment—and the products we consume in it—is scented. But almost everything is.

In the suburbs of Geneva, between the suburbs of Vernier and Satigny, it is a testament to how profitable smell (and taste) can be. This is the “Silicon Valley of the Smell,” Firmenich CEO Gilbert Ghostine said, Firmenich is one of the two companies here that dominate the way the world’s sense of smell. The other is Givaudan. (IFF is the third largest in the industry and is headquartered in New York).

Both Givaudan and Firmenich have a 10-year compound annual revenue growth rate of approximately 5%. The pandemic has hardly weakened this.

The competition between the two is fierce. Olfactory espionage is real, and the company’s customers are surrounded by silent rules. Both Givaudan and Firmenich like to brag about their technical prowess and the smart things they do. (This extends to food. The vegetarians in the world have to thank them a lot. The same is true for dieters in the world-Firmenich likes to boast that it removed 1.2 tons of calories from food in 2020, thanks to its Sweeteners and flavor enhancers).

The effort they put in is strict, almost like Willie Wonka. In their laboratory outside of Geneva, the entire room is filled with dozens of washing machines. In these washing machines, different detergents and fragrances are tested on prescribed sets of underwear, towels and T-shirts. Others are full of drying racks, wanting to see the new smell when drying clothes.

But the real advantage of these companies lies in understanding what their customers want. When it comes to slow, hidden changes ahead of global consumer olfactory needs, data is priceless.

Last month, Firmenich launched the “scentmate” portal. Customers no longer need to contact expensive perfumers to make sure they want the scent of a new candle, washing powder or moisturizer. They can simply upload their preferences to the portal-something new? What’s so exciting? -Algorithm will generate suggestions.

This is especially powerful as the globalization of the world becomes an important driving force for the growth of the industry. The extent to which products need to adapt to local cultural tastes and expectations has become increasingly important. Perfumes reminiscent of air-dried clothes and urban escapism may be quite different in the UK from Thailand.

Therefore, the portal also allows customers to specify other factors, such as geographic location and price, in order to recommend fragrances that suit their needs. It is supported by a steady stream of consumer data collected from testing teams around the world. Givaudan also believes that data and digitization are essential to change the way it promotes and sells its odors.

For example, big data on this scent may indicate that cloves are becoming a more popular scent among high-end cosmetics for trendy people in East London-and historically, this market has led the scent preference among similar people in Berlin, perhaps Two-the lag time before entering the wider consumer market.

All this is not to say that the art of perfumer is over. In the field of fragrance, the Silicon Valley of fragrance is being asked to find more unusual and aggressive scents. Uniqueness and originality are the hallmarks of elite status. A perfumer told me that even “animal” and “feces” scents are entering expensive new perfumes-albeit in small quantities. Scentmate cannot predict.

This can also tell us how artificial intelligence and big data will affect our lives more widely. The huge social gap in the future may appear between those who have the ability to remain original and those whose tastes are shaped by algorithms.

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