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Fragrance chemists, or “perfumers,” help formulate products ranging from eau de toilette to furniture polish. Fragrances are developed in what is known in the industry as “flavor and fragrance houses.” Ken Lesenko, founder of KWL Research Associates and a fragrance industry veteran, describes the skills of the fragrance chemist as “50 percent art and creativity and 50 percent science.” It is the developed artist and the accomplished chemist who will command the highest salary.
The field of fragrance chemists is relatively small. There are only about 1,000 official perfumers worldwide and about 300 in the United States. This helps to keep salaries high for top talent.
Fragrance houses generally require a lengthy apprenticeship and could also require additional training at specialized facilities such as the Research Institute For Fragrance Materials or the American Society of Perfumers. Entry-level positions can begin as low as $35,00). A junior perfumer usually starts out with an annual salary of about $60,000. However, top talent perfumers who develop formulas for popular fragrances can command six-figure salaries.
According to Leffingwell and Associates, a leading provider of services to the perfume, flavor, food and beverage industries, the top 5 flavor and fragrance houses based on sales volume are (in order of rank) Givaudan, Firmenich, International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Symrise and Takasago. All have locations worldwide and pay top salaries for qualified chemists. The top 12 flavor and fragrance houses account for almost 70 percent of the world market.
Most of the United States locations of the top 5 flavor and fragrance houses are in New York, New Jersey and Ohio. In 2011, a perfumer’s starting annual salary at Givaudan was $140,000 to $150,000. Fragrance chemists at Firmenich were offered an annual salary of between $84,000 and $88,000 while senior fragrance development manager positions went for between $143,000 and $177,000 annually. At IFF, the position of trainee perfumer was offered at $69,000 while the salaries of perfumers ranged from $105,000 to $165,000 dollars annually to start. Symrise paid perfumers a starting salary of $200,000 while senior perfumers were paid $222,000 to start. Takasago was the lowest paying of the top 5 flavor and fragrance houses, paying perfumery chemists a starting salary of $39,000.
Lisa Dorward was a corporate financial executive and business consultant for more than 15 years before becoming a writer in 2003. She has B.A. degrees in both history and creative writing and earned her M.F.A. in creative writing in 2008, specializing in novel-length historical fiction.