New innovators: The Irish Rose Essential Oil Company

Perfume alchemy is heavily dependent on rose oil and Cork-based start-up has this valuable sector firmly in its sights

Dr Joan de Lacey: Vast quantity of roses that must be distilled to produce a few drops of oil. photograph: darragh kane

Dr Joan de Lacey: Vast quantity of roses that must be distilled to produce a few drops of oil. photograph: darragh kane

 

One of the biggest users of essential oils is the global perfume industry, which is expected to be worth $46 billion (€41bn) by 2018. Perfume alchemy is heavily dependent on rose oil and Cork-based start-up, The Irish Rose Essential Oil Company, has this valuable sector firmly in its sights.

 The company’s founder is Joan de Lacey, who has a PhD in fluid dynamics. She worked as a development analyst with the NHS in the UK before becoming involved in eco tourism in Ireland 10 years ago. In 2014 de Lacey graduated from University College Cork with an MSc in Organic Horticulture.

 “Rose oil is virtually indispensable as an ingredient in perfume and it is known in the trade as ‘liquid gold’ because of the vast quantity of roses that must be distilled to produce a few drops of oil,” de Lacey says. “The perfume market is growing but the production of rose oil is falling so it is a valuable and sought-after crop.”

 De Lacey is based in West Cork and has trialled seven varieties of rose there to identify those with the potential to yield a high oil content while also being disease resistant and suitable for the Irish climate.

“We reviewed the scientific literature and consulted experts in essential oil crop production to ensure that the choices we were making are in line with best practice,” she says.

“Underpinning our choices is a strong belief in organic agriculture. Our lands overlook Roaring Water Bay, which is a special area of conservation, so we have a responsibility to maintain organic standards. Ireland is a resource that must be protected.”

 De Lacey has recently completed the Exxcel Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at the Rubicon Centre at Cork Institute of Technology and the company’s first product (an extra premium rose water) will be launched this summer. The company will sell in bulk to the cosmetics, perfume, essential oils and food industries and its other customer groups will be Irish craft producers (such as candle makers) who currently import their oils, retail, and on line sales.

 “As far as I am aware, there are no other rose oil producers in Ireland. There is only one commercial rose water producer in the UK and its only rose oil producer has recently retired, so our timing is good,” says de Lacey who has always been an avid rose grower. She got the idea for her business when deadheading her roses and watching the pile of petals grow.

 “Our unique selling point is that we are producing a very high grade product based on a single variety of rose. Most producers mix rose varieties to produce a standardised product,” she says. “We are also growing without the use of pesticides and are hand-picking (to avoid damage) at dawn when the petals are at their best. We will offer four varieties each with a high rose oil content.

 “The international essential oils trade is beset by problems of adulterated rose oil and buyers are looking for a trusted source from organic roses grown in an unpolluted area,” she adds. “Our closed production from flower to still to final product will guarantee the authenticity and provenance of what we produce.”

 The main costs to date have been distilling equipment and thousands of hours of research, planning and testing. De Lacey says the business will employ around 16 people by year three and she is now looking to raise around €100,000 to fund development. To date she has self-financed the project.

“The Rubicon Centre was a huge help in terms of the mentoring support they offered,” she says. “If I’d been paying I couldn’t have afforded the time they gave me. Access to this level of expert guidance has been very significant for my business.”

 – OLIVE KEOGH

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