Vulnerable but irreplaceable: Indian sandalwood essential to creating nostalgic notes consumers want during pandemic
In the past troubled year, people have been turning to nostalgia to find comfort and cope with the instability that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought.
“We’re seeing this trend surrounding nostalgia and it's really come out of the COVID scenario. It’s playing across in a number of different segments from food to fragrances, harkening back to a time when life was simpler,” explains Vanessa Ligovich, chief marketing officer at Quintis Sandalwood, an Australian supplier of sandalwood products.
This is further driving the demand for the already prized sandalwood in segments that are linked to wellness and self-care, including ambient scenting, perfumery, and personal care.
“In some cultures, in India and China, it absolutely harks back to childhood. But also, by nature Sandalwood lends itself to those nice comforting feelings. The ingredient naturally is a very soft, comforting fragrance that feels like its cuddling you,” said Ligovich.
While there are approximately 15 species of sandalwood, the company believes Indian sandalwood, or Santalum album, is best suited to meet the current needs and demands of consumers.
“Indian sandalwood is considered the jewel in the crown because of its interesting history… and from a compound or structural perspective,” said Ligovich.
“Alpha and beta santalol are the two driving forces behind the odour and the therapeutic benefits of the ingredient. But only Indian sandalwood has the concentrations of around 45% for alpha santalol and around 20% to 30% of beta santalol.”
The unique composition of Indian sandalwood makes it irreplaceable by other sandalwood varieties and irreplicable by science, said Ligovich.
“It’s an ingredient that scientists are still getting to know. The minor compounds are still not well understood, and they can have a real impact on the fragrance. This is why a synthetic could never replicate it and recreate it.”
While Indian sandalwood is certainly in demand, Ligovich noted that companies, formulators, and consumers tend to avoid the ingredient because of the shortage of sustainably sourced sandalwood.
By the late 20th Century, the demand for Indian sandalwood became so high that it was classified as vulnerable species in 1998 by the International Union for Conservation (ICUN).
Furthermore, widespread illegal harvesting and adulteration has made people wary of using the ingredient.
“And so, we have this interesting situation where many formulators, particularly in fragrance and cosmetics are reluctant to formulate with Indian sandalwood because they still believe that there is no supply,” said Ligovich.
“After all, when you formulate a product, you want to know that you can rely on the ingredients you have used. The last thing you want is to reformulate because an ingredient is available. That’s another reason why formulators have turned away from Indian sandalwood.”
She added that it is only recently that sustainable sources of Indian sandalwood have been made available. Quintis for instance established an Indian sandalwood plantation in Northern Australia only 20 years ago.
However, the company faces a hurdle of re-educating people on Indian sandalwood.
“We now have over five and a half million trees. And we're very busy informing people that there is a truly a reliable supply that is ethically sourced, legal and all aboveboard,” said Ligovich.
She added that this is why the company’s top priority for the next decade is zeroed in on improving its sustainable practices.
“Our absolute goal is to continue the longevity of the species. If we don’t, there’s no doubt it will continue to climb the status within the ICUN and become an extinct species – it’s not that far off in the wild at the moment.”
The company has recently introduced continuous steam distillation, a new steam distillation process that will help the company significantly reduce its energy consumption.
Moving forward, the company is looking into a variety of ways to improve its sustainability such as reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides and instead, rely on more biological methods.
Ligovich concluded: “There’s a lot we have done, and a lot left that we want to do. In the next 10 years, this will be our number one priority.”