The Nose Knows: Selling Erotic Scents

Nathan Norco
Many consumers are cutting corners when it comes to what they are spending their money on. Hopefully for those of us in the pleasure products industry this means more people will buy products that will enhance their sex lives and staying indoors to use them on each other as a source of entertainment.

Assuming this is true, when money is tight, it is still difficult for some to justify buying certain novelties in an adult store. Lubricant however is a necessity when it comes to couples commingling, and "enhanced" lubricants — those infused with fragrances and flavoring — can take a good thing and make it better.

According to the Fragrance Foundation (, the sense of smell can play a "vital role" in a one's overall sense of wellbeing. The Fragrance Foundation suggests that a woman's sense of smell is a bit keener than a man's and that each person has a "smell fingerprint," or his or her own unique interpretation of a fragrance or flavor.

This is probably why those who manufacture the slippery sine qua non of sex offer a plethora of choices when it comes to fragrances, flavors and ingredients used in lubricants, massage oils and topical creams. A flavor that might sell well as a lubricant, might not be met with the same positive reaction when it is used in massage oil. Therefore, it is important to get educated not only about what is available, but also what types of customers the various fragrances and flavors resonate with best. Then it's time to take a look at your customer base and cross reference so you are sure to stock the best offerings to fit your store's specific demographic.

Jennifer Martsolf, vice president of marketing for Trigg Laboratories — the makers of WET brand lubricant — has nearly 20 years of experience in this industry, and she says several flavors have lasted the test of time.

"It boils down to a simple fact," she says. "I have been in this industry for 18 years and the list of flavors that sell consistently has yet to change — Strawberry, Cherry, Watermelon, Raspberry and Passion Fruit. Passion Fruit always makes me scratch my head because I would be willing to bet that 80 percent of Americans have never tasted a passion fruit — it must be the name."

Trigg Laboratories has a history of focusing on making the highest quality "staple" items that appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Martsolf admits as a whole, Trigg's development process can be rather stringent, which is the case with a new flavor of lube the manufacturer is about to launch.

"We are launching WET's take on a classic Jelly [this month]," she continues. "I am very picky about our flavored products. We had the performance of the base formula down months ago, but the flavor was not at our quality standards. I returned it to the lab for 16 revisions before we got the flavor right. It has to smell good, taste good, not have an aftertaste and pass our [quality control] test panel."

Martsolf also agreed that gender and even sexual orientation can certainly be a factor in terms of how well flavors and fragrances will sell.

"Ultimately the consumer votes for what a vagina or anus should taste and smell like," she explains. "We receive flavor samples to test and have discussions on line extensions, but we always return to those tried and true flavors. Gay men don't tend to buy flavored lubricants. They seem to prefer au natural and women reluctant to practice oral sex [find it] more palatable with a sweet treat. We all know practice makes perfect!"

Martsolf also notes that Pina Colada tends to perform well in Canada and points out that Europeans seem to like tart flavors.

Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson's director of product development and licensing, echoes Martsolf regarding who decides what flavors stay and which ones go.

"The consumer makes the decision," Braverman says. "I have always believed that the candy sweet smells are more playful, a little more lubricant oriented, while the flowery/herbal/natural smells are more sensual, more massage oil or high-end lubricant oriented."

A company that continues to create and has pushed the envelope for more than three decades, Braverman shares that Doc Johnson still bases its decisions on history and sales figures.

"More often than not, we are going to offer the product in a scent or flavor that is tried and true," he explains. "There are thousands of scents and flavors, but not thousands of viable options. Many scents and flavors just don't make sense to use for a lube or oil. Also keep in mind how many different scents and flavors a company wants to purchase and stock. Buying one ingredient for one item can get difficult, not to mention costly."

Rudy Kottbauer, marketing, sales and customer relations manager of FunFactory, says the company's manufacturing process is set up to allow them to produce the same products in a variety of scents at the same price point.

"We do not create the scents ourselves," he explains, "so we are able to offer them to our customers at the same price. We choose the scents and flavors we produce based on feedback we get from focus groups. We have found that soft and sweet scents are preferred by women and acerbic scents like musk are preferred by men."

Kottbauer also shares that FunFactory's Love Yourself personal care line, which includes massage candles, creams and oils, are all available in natural scents.

"Natural smells can also be sweet," he says. "Like vanilla, it is popular across cultural differences. We try to offer a variety of smells that will appeal to cover all likings and territories. The company decides which scents are desired for the special product. The laboratory then gives information about realization of the scent in conjunction with the product. The lab advises, informs and suggests alternatives. The focus group makes the final decision."

Tim Crawford, Topco Sales' technical director of drugs and cosmetics, admits price can be a big factor when it comes to aroma-enhanced necessities.

"Little known fact: lemon fragrance is cheaper than lemon juice," he says. "Price is determined by complexity and use. For example, orange fragrance is cheaper than a fine fragrance [such as] Hypnotic Poison by Dior, and these different fragrances/flavors appeal to different moods or markets."

Crawford says that in his experience, environmentalists prefer something more natural, and folks with a youthful joie de vivre love candy-sweet and fruity essences.

"The essence helps set the mood for the session," he continues. "When people decide what [fragrances and flavors] to buy, perhaps it is when they think of a certain person and want to recreate a feeling or memory. 'She always smelled like fresh strawberries.' Everyone buys cherry and strawberry, but what is the market for crème brulee with a hint of mango salsa? The development team needs to really be in touch with the market and the consumer."

If you happen to have a large customer base that is turned on by natural ingredients, Sliquid is a manufacturer who specializes in just that.

"We've been working on coming out with some flavored lubes for our natural organics line, using stevia [a sweet herb] as a natural ingredient." says Dean Elliot, founder of Sliquid. "As with any of our products, the most important thing is quality. We are working hard to perfect the blend before releasing it."

Elliot has a reputation for going the safe route, ensuring Sliquid's products do not contain any ingredients that could potentially be harmful to consumers. Elliot says it took nearly two years between starting the company in 2002 and formulating the product to be ready for store shelves in 2004. This high standard for quality remains to this day.

"Sliquid Organics' bath and body line will all be botanically infused," he explains. "We offer a gentle femme wash and massage oils, which are going to be luxurious. We're using macadamia nut and sweet almond oils along with some other exotic oils and enriching them with mango, shea and cocoa butter so they're going to feel really nice on the skin."

Sliquid uses essential oils in its bath and body line, but to this day refrains from using them in their lubricants. Elliot says he has kept a fragrance that doesn't perform as well as many in his product line out of respect for an older generation.

"Our spring blossom is made with essential oils of lilac and the older generation of women identify with those types of scents," Elliot continues. "Back in the day you could get essential oils of citrus fruits and herbs, so we've always noticed that these floral scents do well with the older generations. They are not huge performers, but we keep them around to please that smaller market base."

In his experience Elliot has found Sliquid's honeydew cucumber and grapefruit do well with a younger demographic. He hopes the Sliquid's new cocoa lime verbena massage oil is just as popular.

Sliquid's line of lubricants are all glycerin and paraben free. In recent years the topic of using these ingredients in personal care products has been fodder for much debate, a topic XBIZ Premiere will delve deeper into in the April issue, offering opinions from both sides of this debate in an extensive article.

This of course is a small glimpse into the multitude of flavored and scented necessity products available. But the same principals apply to any manufacturer you purchase from. Many are starting to include product information on their websites. So educate yourself, educate your staff, get familiar with your customer demographic and make the most out of your dollar by picking the lubricant that is right for your store.