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France, Grasse – problems of flower and perfume producers

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Jasmine from Grasse sells for more than gold. This region produces flowers for the world’s biggest luxury brands such as Dior and Chanel. Manufacturers, however, face big problems. “Climate change may not have an impact on the scent of perfume,” said Benoit Verdier, co-founder of custom perfume house Ex Nihilo Paris. “But they will affect the price,” he added.

Since the 17th century, Grasse has been known for its fragrant flowers. Located inland from the French Riviera, Grasse enjoys a microclimate that allowed fields of May rose, tuberose, lavender and jasmine to bloom. The Guardian describes that today the region produces flowers for the world’s biggest luxury brands, including Dior and Chanel, which spend significant amounts on raw materials from the region. Jasmine from Grasse currently sells for more than gold.

Climate change affects perfume prices

Worldwide, Grasse producers are recognized as industry leaders, and in 2018 UNESCO included the region’s perfumery culture in its list of intangible cultural heritage.

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But climate changes is a serious threat to the industry. Extreme weather conditions such as droughts, heatwaves and excessive rainfall have made growing flowers increasingly difficult. Grasse suffered severe droughts last summer, causing some producers to lose almost half of their crops. High temperatures affect the future quality of roses and prevent the growth of some flowers, such as tuberose.

“The elders tell us that there are no more seasons,” Carole Biancalana, a fourth-generation perfume flower manufacturer, commented on the weather anomaly. She stressed that winters are now warmer and that spring brings out-of-season cold days.

This is not just a region problem. Across the globe, essential materials for perfume production are being threatened by increasingly extreme weather conditions. Vanilla, a key material for this industry, was particularly affected. It is grown mainly on the hot African continent. In 2017, a cyclone in Madagascar destroyed 30% of crops, raising the price to over $600 per kilogram.

“Climate change may not have an impact on the scent of perfume,” said Benoit Verdier, co-founder of custom perfume house Ex Nihilo Paris. “But they will affect the price,” he added.

Future? Lab perfume

The cost of raw materials such as vanilla and saffron is skyrocketing as a result of limited supply caused by droughts and climate disasters. Ex Nihilo Paris has not yet increased the price of its perfumes, rising raw material costs may force them to do so. As such, they are considering turning to synthetic alternatives.

Perfume crops require a lot of water and land. Shipping raw materials around the world also creates significant carbon emissions. ‘It’s more sustainable to make perfumes in the laboratory,’ explained Verdier.

The Grasse producers disagree. “We actually use very little water,” Biancalana said, highlighting that producers in the region use drip irrigation.

In 2006, Biancalana founded Les Fleurs d’Exception du Pays de Grasse, an association of producers. Their statutory goal is that they were all organic, ensuring the protection of biodiversity, which they believe is one of the greatest weapons against climate change.

The president of the association, Armelle Janody, explained that together they are looking for answers to the questions: “What can we do? How can we adapt? Who should we ask for support? What research should be carried out?”. She stressed that currently there is little scientific research on how climate change is affecting crops in the region.

“We’re seeing changes, but we don’t have scientific research on what’s objectively happening,” Janody said.

Multi-generational heritage

For producers, it’s not just their farming practices that are at stake, but their culture and way of life. The perfume industry has been the beating heart of Grasse’s identity for centuries. Since 1946, the city has paid tribute to jasmine from the region in an August ceremony that lasts all weekend.

“It’s more than just work,” says Biancalana, whose family has worked in the same fields for more than a century. We have a moral obligation to our ancestors. The people here have always been ready to fight. This will not change due to climate change, she noted.

Read also: Strong words from the head of the UN in Davos. “The Oil Industry Has Been Selling the World a Big Lie”

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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