Creative Science

By definition, Firmenich is a chemical company, that just so happens to be in the industry of fragrance and flavor creation. So much so, that in 1939, the Firmenich Director of R&D, Lavoslav Ružička, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes, including the first chemical synthesis of male sex hormones. In addition to being the name of a family that has been personally committed to its colleagues, customers, and communities for over 127 years, it’s creating emotions through the senses of taste and smell that is the real business they are in, touching the lives of over four-billion consumers, several times a day, in over a hundred different markets - from their breakfast cereals and their coffee in the morning, to their shampoo, shower gel, and fine fragrance when they go out at night. I can all but guarantee that in your home, right now, there are products in your pantry, refrigerator, medicine cabinet, and or laundry room that have “Firmenich Inside.” But you would never know it, and that’s the way the business works.
As a supplier to the consumer package goods (CPGs) manufacturers, from the global, top-of-mind, mega-behemoths to the fledgling regional start-ups and their niche brands, they all need what Firmenich sells in order to make their products taste or smell good, and to complete the sensory experience for their consumer. If the ingredient deck on a packaging label reads “Natural Flavor” or “Fragrance/Perfume,” understand that that just doesn’t get in there on its own. It’s a purchased ingredient, from Firmenich or, to be fair, their competition, in a very competitive and complicated creation process involving layers and layers of development before it ever gets in the bottle or package, never mind on to a store shelf or cosmetic counter.
Creativity is a core fundamental and although it is applied to improve all parts of the business – including research and innovation - when Firmenich speaks of “the creatives” in-house, they are really only referring to the Perfumers and Flavorists. And the flavorists, well, they always seem to be included as if it were a professional courtesy. In speaking with a dear friend, and Master Perfumer, she once asked me, “Do you know the difference between a perfumer and a flavorist?” Answering before I could, “A perfumer is like an artist who paints, while a flavorist, a flavorist is more like a photographer.” She meant well, but she wasn’t the only one who felt that way among her cohorts. In speaking with a dear friend, and Master Flavorist, he once asked me, “Do you know what the difference is between a flavorist and a perfumer?” Answering before I could, “About $100,000,” he told me. He too meant well, but he wasn’t kidding.
The Firmenich culture revolves around their perfumers, and in the business, it’s no secret that many perfumers are like Gods - and sure, some of them, like some flavorists, are truly artists, but most of them are highly specialized scientists mixing molecules, creating compounds in labs, writing prized formulas that need to meet strict guidelines, regulations, and customer expectations. The perfumers that work in the creation of fine fragrances, making the very prestige, designer or celebrity perfumes you wear, give to loved ones, and recognize by name, like Marc Jacobs Daisy, Estée Lauder Pleasures, Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue, and Armani’s Acqua di Gio, all represent gazillions of dollars in sales, and are outright celebrities, even having their own award show, The FiFis, pronounced, I kid you not, “fee-fees.” Known as the "Oscars of the Fragrance Industry," it’s a celebrity-studded affair celebrating creativity and innovation in every aspect of the perfume industry while honoring their crowning achievements, including the coveted Fragrance of the Year - Women’s Prestige, Fragrance of the Year - Men’s Luxury, or Perfume Extraordinaire of the Year, in a whole lot of black tie, pomp and circumstance. I can assure you, nobody is clamoring for Soda of The Year, Best New Cereal – Children, or Premium Chewing Gum of the Year – ever. The flavor industry is by no means pretentious, but, by definition, does have better taste.
Bottom line, it all comes down to winning the hearts and minds of the consumer, and practically every person on the planet wants the same things – to smell good, to wear clean clothes, in a clean home, and to eat and drink well. Firmenich's scientists provide concrete solutions toward that goal, exploring molecules, investigating the fundamental mechanisms of human perception, and unraveling the very secrets of nature in order to create new ingredients and technologies that delight those very consumers - every day, everywhere.
While I'm certainly no scientist by trade, I've had the distinct honor and privilege of both being inspired by, and helping to inspire, countless artists in the fields of perfumery and flavor creation for about thirty years now. At Firmenich, creativity is essential to their - make that OUR - nature. Discoveries are not completely accidental or random, as we are continually learning how to wield our creative power with greater precision.

4 comments


  • John E.

    I’ve been reading your weekly posts and enjoying them immensely. I especially enjoyed this weeks nod to the flavor industry – “…by definition does have better taste.” Nicely done Mikel.


  • Carla Carlson

    You have definitely redefined creativity !


  • Michael Katz

    Great overall picture of the company!


  • Michael Katz

    Great overall picture of the company!


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