How do I know a material I buy from Pell Wall is genuine?

How do I know a material I buy from Pell Wall is genuine?

  Products   |     2 years ago

Our Perfumer writes:

I thought it might be useful to set out why this question arrises in the first place and what steps I have taken to avoid getting caught out.

So first of all, the problem is that somewhere in the supply chain, someone is unscrupulous and either adulterates one material with another or replaces it altogether with a cheaper one.  The unscrupulous person may not, and usually wont’ be, the one you’re directly buying from, which makes it harder to detect and avoid.

The problem is rare with cheap materials where the incentive to be dishonest is less, but even some cheap materials are sometimes misrepresented: a good example here are materials like Hedione, Iso E Super and Timbersilk.  That’s because there are manufacturers of generic equivalents making even cheaper knock-offs and it’s quite easy for distributors and retailers to sell these on under the well known brand name.  This practice is technically illegal under Trade Mark laws, but in practice these are rarely enforced by the big manufacturers.  The better distributors will use another name for such ‘equivalent’ products and sell them for what they are, and many perfume houses are happy to buy them on that basis.  It’s important to realise that a generic equivalent may be identical to the branded original, but more often they have important differences and often perform less well, or just differently, in a blend.

The problem is much worse when more expensive materials are involved and especially naturals, where a very large proportion of what is on sale retail has been either adulterated or outright faked.

When I first started in this industry, I was quite shocked at the prevalence of this kind of dishonesty, so I set about finding ways to protect myself and my customers from it.  Because the problem is acute with naturals, when we started selling ingredients at Pell Wall we stocked very few naturals – as my confidence in suppliers has increased, we’ve expanded to stock more and that’s a process that will continue – I’d rather not have something for sale than risk selling a fake.

With synthetics it’s a bit easier, but the key thing in both cases is to know your suppliers – and the manufacturers – I’m not talking here about a bit of internet research or the odd phone call – I mean really know them.

What I did was to set about meeting as many as I could in person (long previous history in business has taught me it’s much easier to detect a rat if you can look them in the eye).  I invited some to meet at my place, went to visit others, but mainly found it useful to go to trade fairs and events organised by the likes of the British Society of Perfumers and IFRA.  The great advantage of this is that you can have a conversation with the people you’re buying from at the same time as representatives of the manufacturers themselves.  Often the manufacturer will be presenting materials they want you to buy and giving out samples: it would be quickly obvious if what you were later sold didn’t match those. 

A trusted distributor will often present together with manufacture’s own perfumers, who will often be keen to tell you what’s different and better about their product compared to those sold by competitors.  Occasionally you need to take that with a pinch of salt of course because it’s a sales pitch after all, but it helps build a body of knowledge that enables you to assess what you’re buying and who trusts who.

Wherever possible I’ll make an overnight stay at these sorts of events: if you spend the evening drinking with someone, you’ll often learn things that might never have been mentioned in other circumstances.

Best of all I talk to lots of other perfumers, evaluators and buyers: we’re all in the same boat and everyone has a tale of getting caught out or narrowly avoiding it.  You get to know who you can trust and who you can’t.  Where you’ll need to ask extra questions (and what to ask) and who to avoid altogether.

At first it is difficult to be sure you’ve been successful, but as you get bigger you start to get confirmatory evidence: when you buy in larger quantities the material comes in a container with the manufacturers name and seal on it so you can be absolutely confident it’s right. 

Unfortunately, with cheaper materials, those quantities can be large.  For Hedione, Iso E Super and Timbersilk for example that didn’t happen until we were able to buy a 195Kg drum of each.  With our lovely Lime Oil from Charabot it was only 10Kg. For materials like Dynascone, Orris Givco, Green Tea Givco and Tangerinol it’s 5Kg that gets you a sealed drum from the manufacturer.  With Lilyflore and Mirabelle just 1Kg comes in a branded, sealed aluminium bottle and for our Rose Absolute just 500g was enough. With some manufacturers, such as Payan Bertrand and Synarome for example, everything I buy comes in their own sealed containers. You don’t need to get everything from a given distributor that way to know that you’re dealing with a reliable company.  Another kind of confirmatory evidence can be the other way round when, for example, Vertenex was discontinued by IFF I was told that had happened and not fobbed off with a substitute by the distributor I asked to price it.  When IFF discontinued Meijiff on the other hand, the distributor I bought it from suggested Mayol from Firmenich instead and we swapped to stocking that: as you can read in the product description on the website.

We don’t currently have facilities at Pell Wall to do tests on incoming materials (other than my nose that is) but I know other perfumers who do have such facilities and independent testers I can go to, to check on something that raises suspicion, and I often buy materials jointly with others to both improve the price and piggy-back on their testing facilities.

It’s also important to know the going rate for a material in the market.  A good example here is Neroli Oil – a pure and natural neroli will be in the region of £10,000 per Kg.  So if, as happened to me, a distributor offers you some at £50/Kg you know immediately that it isn’t going to be right. 

Another important thing to learn is how terminology is used: a 100% natural neroli oil will typically contain no actual neroli at all – instead it will be made up of other oils and natural isolates to imitate neroli – it will typically be £100s per Kg rather than £1,000s.  A retailer buying such a material is handily given plausible deniability in that it arrives in a container labelled Neroli Oil, so you can easily see how a retailer might imagine they’ve got a genuine bargain, when in fact they’ve bought a quite different product.

None of these steps is completely fool proof of course, but when you take a combination of steps, work with the same distributors over many years and make spot checks, you can develop a high confidence that you’re getting what you intended to buy. 

There can always be errors of course, and occasionally some of ours are not spotted until a customer finds them, but generally the errors on our website are the odd typo, an incorrect CAS number or, rather more seriously, a technical error preventing the site from functioning as it should.  What you won’t find are dishonest statements, misrepresentation or false claims: if I’m not confident who has manufactured something we’re selling then the manufacturer will not be named.  If I’m not confident a natural material is unadulterated and what it’s sold as, then I won’t buy it in the first place, much less sell it on.

As a customer of Pell Wall, you have to rely on my judgement on these matters.  If you don’t trust me, you probably shouldn't shop at Pell Wall.

  2 years ago