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  • Essential oils may not always be so essential, say fragrant Davy philosophers

    June 22, 2012 @ 10:55 am | by Laura Slattery

    “Welcome to the world of flavour and fragrance,” a new Davy Research report on the flavour and fragrance (F&F) industry boldly opens. Written by John O’Reilly, Jack Gorman and Aiden O’Donnell, it’s easily my new favourite stockbroker research report – a heady mix of financial metrics and the philosophy of sensory pleasure.

    First, the history bit. Over the last 20 years, the F&F sector has thrived as consumers smelled the bath salts, wrapped their tongues around flavour extracts and sought out those top notes with an enthusiasm that, while not unique in history, “has never before been so dominant, at least as far as so many people are concerned”, Davy argues.

    “Nothing exemplifies this more than how the human body, as regards every sensory experience, has commanded centre stage as the means to self-awareness, gratification, emotional and psychological well-being, self-expression, self-creation, identity and personal happiness.

    “It has been narcissism writ large.”

    (I’m a Clinique Happy Heart woman myself.)

    “In the long historical contest… between stoicism (indifference to pleasure) and hedonism (that satisfying wants and the pleasure attainable is the only good), hedonism has been the recent winner,” says Davy. Its report goes on to discuss the ideal conditions for fragrantly rampant consumerism, and how these may variously relate to Romanticism, the Industrial Revolution and a scene from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, before reaching the more grimly prosaic austerity versus stimulus economic debate of our times.

    “A regime of austerity will only endure if the belief system around it changes,” Davy observes. In other words, make-do-and-mend resignation won’t last unless we really, really believe in it. But if we do believe in it… then that has consequences for flavour and fragrance manufacturers like Givaudan (top shareholder: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Naturex, Robertet, Frutarom and Symrise.

    These F&F houses fulfil the “here comes the science” role that L’Oréal used to talk about, buying raw materials like vanilla, menthol, sandalwood and citrus and transforming them into the chemical cocktails that make up shampoos, balms, perfumes, gels and detergents for consumer product companies – which then do the easy part and sell the stuff to us weak hedonists.

    Bicarbonate of soda is an effective cleaning agent, the report notes, but it lacks the sensory attraction of a fragranced alternative. This is why it is so hard to purchase a clothes detergent that has not been jazzed up with the smell of fresh mountain air or sea shore driftwood – “as if these could ever really be put in a package”. The irony is that with so much olfactory bombardment, our sensory neurons get a bit tired. Because everything smells, nothing much smells – or at least not in a way that stimulates us.

    This might not be a problem for much longer. If austerity overturns the existing order, then it’s curtains – in the West, at least – for what Davy calls “the excesses of a buy/discard/buy culture”. The “marketing bias towards engendering personal dissatisfaction” may have to be re-pitched; the “demand for novelty in sensory experience” will falter. The stockbroking house forecasts that industrial sensory experiences may well “be of lesser significance” in future, at least in the developed world.

    Or as it puts it: “The long-run contest between the stoics and the hedonists may enter a new phase.”

    So those essential oils might not be so essential any more. And that’s not great in an industry where new products can account for around 20 per cent of sales. Happily, Davy remains positive about the fundamentals of the sector – praise the lord of ylang-ylang for those developing markets.

  • A centenary to remember: Titanic on screen

    January 31, 2012 @ 8:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    Glossing aside for one moment, or indeed forever more, the ever-so-slight contradiction in celebrating a feat of engineering that rather swiftly became a byword for disaster, April 15th marks 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, and more cash-ins abound than there were passengers on board. From the shipyards of Belfast to the decades of survivors’ guilt that followed, expect the story of this all-too-sinkable ship to make regular appearances on your television and cinema screens this spring. Here are just five of the Titanic-themed offerings sending maritime thrills and chills your way:

    1. Titanic 3D. Jack! Rose! Jack! Rose! You remember this one, from director and Titanic obsessive James Cameron. Travel back in time to 1912 / 1997 to watch a boyish Leonardo di Caprio declare himself “king of the world” in full retro-fitted 3D glory, his arms stretching out into the cinema from the bow of the ship. Marvel as the stern rises in the air and plunges into the ocean, bodies hurtling off the sides and water lapping over the heads of your fellow cinema-goers. And pause to note how Kate Winslet’s survival is indeed a historically accurate reflection of the ship’s “women and children first” policy. It’s due out April 6th… you know you want to.

    2. Titanic: Blood and Steel. Directed by Ciaran Donnelly and filmed in both Dublin and Serbia, this 12-part mini-series sounds like it has the biggest potential tourism “ker-ching” for Belfast. Rather than concentrating on the ill-fated maiden voyage itself, the action starts in 1897, telling the story of the ship’s 15-year construction in Edwardian Belfast. Expect to hear dialogue that goes a bit like this (only more authentically Edwardian)… Harland and Wolff shipyard manager: “But, sir, the ship’s capable of carrying 64 lifeboats!” J Bruce Ismay, White Star Line president: “Bloody hell, that’s a bit pricey. Happily, we’re only legally required to carry a quarter of that amount.”

    3. Titanic. This four-part UK / Canada  / Hungary co-production is scripted by Julian “Downton Abbey” Fellowes, so expect the upstairs-downstairs angle to be propelled to the fore. It boasts an impressive cast, including Toby Jones, David Calder, Lyndsey Marshal, Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, James Wilby, Peter Wight, Celia Imrie and Ireland’s own Maria Doyle Kennedy. Due to be simulcast on ITV1 and TV3 on Thursdays starting from April 12th, this really does contain the famous last words “we’ll never need lifeboats for every passenger” – the trailer, which modestly describes the show as “the television event of 2012”, is now on YouTube. Let’s hope it’s more original than its title.

    4. Saving the Titanic. Announced as part of RTÉ’s spring schedule, Saving the Titanic is a drama documentary  focusing on the “engine room heroes” who worked to keep the electric power running as the ship sank – their sacrifice not only kept the lights on, but meant the electric lifeboat winches remained operational, allowing others to survive. The docudrama, co-produced by Ireland’s Tile Films and Germany’s GebruederBeetzFilmproduktion, is based on eye-witness accounts of nine engineers who worked among the coal-fired furnaces and massive dynamos to satisfy the ship’s demand for electricity. It will be shown at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival on February 17th.

    5. Titanic and Me. The BBC’s contribution to the genre, this documentary series is presented by Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman, who aspires to “delve beyond the Hollywood myths and into the lives of the families who struggled with the loss of husbands, wives, sons and daughters”. Given the last surviving passenger of the Titanic died in 2009, testimonies come from descendants “for whom the Titanic is part of family folklore”. Shot in Southhampton and Northern Ireland, the three half-hour episodes have been made for the BBC by Derry-based history specialists 360 Production. What’s Len Goodman got to do with all of this? Well, he used to be a welder at Harland and Wolff – so there.

    And if all of these tragic delights leave you iceberg-cold, well there’s always Bee Gee Robin Gibb’s classical music tribute, Titanic Requiem.

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