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Fragrance Firms Hit in Europe Suspected of Scent Supply Cartel

Fragrance firms across Europe risk potentially hefty fines after prosecutor raids over concerns companies including Givaudan SA and Symrise AG colluded over price to supply scents and ingredients.
A test tube with pink fragrance ingredients.
Fragrance firms hit in Europe suspected of scent supply cartel. (Shutterstock)

The European Commission carried out the unannounced inspections at the premises of Givaudan, Symrise as well as International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. and Firmenich International SA, whose scents and ingredients are used in household and personal care products.

Swiss, UK and US regulators were involved in the raids and also “sent out formal requests for information to several companies active in the same sector.”

The Swiss Competition Commission and UK’s Competition and Markets Authority confirmed in separate statements on Wednesday the companies targeted by the action. While such raids can be a precursor for fines of as much as 10 percent of companies’ global sales, regulators seldom levy penalties of that size. The watchdogs also pointed out that while the firms are under suspicion, the companies are not yet guilty of any wrongdoing.

Four Billion Consumers

Fragrance and flavouring companies sell ingredients, chemicals, natural extracts that are used in millions of products around the world from breakfast cereals and beverages to shower gels, cleaning products and fine perfumes.

Firmenich’s website says its products are used by four billion consumers every day in more than 100 markets.

Chemicals company Royal DSM NV and Swiss ingredients maker Firmenich are combining to form the largest maker of fragrances, with an annual revenue of more than €11 billion ($11.6 billion). It’s the biggest deal in the industry since IFF agreed to buy DuPont’s nutrition business for $26.2 billion in 2019.

At the time the merger was announced, executives from both companies said they didn’t expect any antitrust issues with regulators.

The market for perfume scent and food flavourings is relatively niche and is dominated by a few companies which serve customers including Nestle SA and LVMH. The market was valued at around $37.5 billion globally in 2021, according to the consumer data platform Statista.

Firmenich said in a statement that it is “fully cooperating with the relevant authorities” and that it doesn’t believe these investigations “are in any way connected” with its merger with Royal DSM and, “at this stage, does not anticipate that they will impact the merger.”

Symrise and IFF said they were working closely with the relevant authorities.

Givaudan shares dropped as much as 3.9 percent in Zurich, the most intraday since Dec. 14, while Symrise fell as much as 4.3 percent in Frankfurt. Both stocks underperformed Europe’s benchmark Stoxx 600 Index on Wednesday. IFF closed down 3 percent in the US on Tuesday.

Vernier, Switzerland-based Givaudan said late on Tuesday it is “part of an industry wide investigation” and “as a good corporate citizen” is “fully cooperating with the authorities.” Givaudan manufactures and markets fragrances and flavours from natural and synthetic ingredients. It sells its products to manufacturers of perfumes, beverages, prepared foods, and consumer goods.

Niche parts of the chemicals industry have been one of the main targets of antitrust action since the Brussels-based commission started policing competition violations in the now 27-nation EU. While the regulator gave scant information about the scope of its probe, the involvement of US, UK and Swiss watchdogs suggests the raids could have been months in the planning.

Previous cases have tended to focus on how firms restrict supplies of chemicals to drive up prices, but officials have also started to look more at so-called buyers’ cartels, where firms join forces to pay less for their key inputs.

By Lisa Pham and Stephanie Bodoni

Learn more:

The Companies Behind Fashion’s Biggest Fragrances

Despite fast growth for independent fragrance brands, designer scents still make up most sales, and a few companies are the engines behind them. BoF unpacks the key players.

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