Smells good enough to eat: how food scents seduced the beauty industry

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As restaurants and cafes closed during global lockdowns, fragrances that smell good enough to eat have gained traction during lockdown. Gone are the florals and woody top notes of old, with food a key a scent profile.

The therapeutic potential of smell

Scent is the most direct and evocative of the senses, fascinating scholars for thousands of years, and long thought to influence mood and emotion. Once a vital tool that helped keep humans alive, it still enhances our moods or triggers memories. Mounting evidence suggests that despite a few thousand years of evolution, our brains and bodies are still ‘hard wired’ to react in predictable ways to certain aromas. 

The first of the senses to develop, our sense of smell is active even when we are still in the womb. The olfactory cortex processes emotion, perception, memory, and libido and the close proximity of the brain and olfactory system makes the effects of scent almost instantaneous. This direct connection is now inspiring biologists, chemists, neuroscientists, and perfumers to delve deeper into its therapeutic potential. 

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Gourmand perfumery

Accelerating this ongoing convergence of food and beauty, using familiar gourmand scents in products creates a deeper connection and enhances emotional wellness. Food brings people together and several transportive fragrances are tapping into this. The familiarity of food ingredient smells makes gourmand scents an easier online purchase. Consumers feel more confident to buy without testing, and with online retail booming this makes them an important addition to a brand’s portfolio. 

Sweetness adds reassuring notes

Nostalgic fragrances – reminding people of childhood treats perhaps – have been shown to offer reassurance and comfort, making them popular in times of stress. Products that leverage the scent-memory connection to elevate mood resonate with anxious consumers and add another level of benefit. 

Beauty appeals to all the senses: touch, smell, sight and sound. Taste is the profile least used and this is a way to unlock that potential. Scents that recreate connections with loved ones or happy memories from the past are gaining traction and create deep and highly personal product experiences.

apothecary jars full of natural ingredients

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The kitchen influence

Vegetable botanicals and culinary foods are becoming a strong influence, inspired partly by consumers’ renewed interest in growing their own vegetables and learning artisan culinary skills, as well as increased interest in the ingredients’ provenance. As fragrance moves away from its traditionally gender-based storytelling, it needs to create more inclusive, wider-reaching scent profile inspiration, and allotments, garden vegetables and greenhouse hauls will inspire new fragrance notes and change the storytelling.

Fridge-to-face formulas made with staple fruits and vegetables are set to soar as wellness-focused consumers increasingly seek nutrient-rich superfoods in their beauty products or use upcycled food waste to make a more sustainable choice. 

Driven by the #cleanbeauty movement and the conviction that natural formulas or plant-based ingredients are ‘safer’, functional foods from the kitchen are becoming must-have beauty ingredients. As more people adopt plant-based lifestyles and seek more holistic approaches to beauty and wellness, the appetite for these ingredients is increasing. 

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Savoury flavours

As perfumers seek new, gender-free and more inclusive inspiration for scent profiles, they are tapping into consumers’ enthusiasm for food to move fragrance towards more savoury compositions. The New Savoury looks towards earthy, vegetative, umami and salty notes for inspiration. Here’s to smelling delicious…

If you’re a WGSN Subscriber, head to our Beauty platform for further information on food-inspired products and packaging. 

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