A few years ago Western brands looking to launch or penetrate deeper into the Middle East came out with an oud fragrance. Doing so was seen as a sure way to appeal to consumers’ tastes in the Middle East and to secure a piece of the region’s growing fragrance market. However, there is some evidence that the oud trend – at least among Western brands – is beginning to lose steam. There are a variety of reasons for this. Analysts say that fragrance is still a category that is driven mainly by novelty and that international brands coming out with another oud-inspired scent is simply not answering the Middle Eastern consumer’s need for newness. Indeed, a certain fatigue with the concept seems to have set in, with some beauty buyers at major retailers in the region now going so far as to say that they are fed up with the oud trend. This was part of the reason why French brand Sisley chose not to include oud among its ingredients for its latest fragrance launch Soir d’Orient – a scent that was designed with the Middle Eastern consumer in mind.
Another reason is that the Middle Eastern consumer is a lot more informed and discerning than in the past. This means that launching an oud-smelling fragrance is no longer enough, as increasingly consumers can recognize a quality or inferior juice and are coming forward to ask questions about the ingredients, such as whether the fragrance contains real oud or just chemical molecules.
Lastly, the local offer for oud scents (and Arabian fragrances in general) is well developed, of good quality and some say, better tailored to consumers in the region than the so-called Middle Eastern scents from many Western brands. Indeed, local fragrances still dominate the market, accounting for up to three quarters of the fragrance industry in the Middle East, according to industry sources.
Still room for growth
This does not mean that the oud segment should not be explored. Overall, oud fragrances continue to see good growth and attract consumers. However, Western brands should perhaps approach the segment differently. This means putting the focus on quality ingredients, combining oud offers with a premium or niche positioning or proposing a point of difference from the local competition. Oud-smelling scents may no longer be enough, but oud scents with high-end packaging or limited distribution may have more appeal (consumers in the region are increasingly looking for unique products and exclusivity, according to retail buyers). This is to an extent what is happening in the form of oud-inspired fragrance collections or private editions that many major brands have come out with. It should also be pointed out that there is more than oud when it comes to oriental fragrances.
All in all, the Middle East fragrance market can no longer absorb any brand that the industry throws at it (even though the fragrance market there remains strong). Better quality and an exclusive appeal are needed for a scent to make its mark, whether it is in the oud category or not.