The sweet smell of innovation out of Israel

Today, there are several Israeli companies involved in the production of key fragrance ingredients.

A fragrant garden (photo credit: Courtesy)
A fragrant garden
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The legacy of Israel and the Jewish people has always been intertwined with the history of fragrance. From the commandment to burn sweet incense in the temple to the Song of Songs comparing a lover to the most fragrant orchard, the Bible hints at an ancient Israel that emphasized quality fragrances and perfumes. Many thousands of years later, Israel may not be as well known for its fragrances as France or Spain, but the country still represents a small but vital presence in the perfume industry. This, combined with the fact that Israel stands at the forefront of technological progress, has made Israel the perfect place to foster the growth of innovation in fragrance technology.
Beyond the biblical era, the role of Israel as a source for the perfume industry was limited. Up until the industrial revolution, perfume ingredients came from natural sources. With Israel being quite a small country, it had a more narrow spectrum of natural ingredients to offer for elaborate perfumes as compared to India and France, for example. Today however, more and more fragrance molecules are produced using synthetic processes that create identical copies of natural ingredients, thus opening the vast range of scents. 
As technology began to play a more significant role in the fragrance value-chain, Israel’s position in the perfume industry gradually evolved. Today, there are several Israeli companies involved in the production of key fragrance ingredients including Aromor (which was acquired by IFF) and Frutarom, and my own company Agan Aroma (part of ADAMA), as well as a number of other companies with particular expertise in a niche family of fragrance ingredients.
The main underlying technologies involved here are organic chemistry, chemical engineering and of course as always, the old trade of perfumery which is more art than science. Israel is a global player in chemistry; both in academia, as evidenced by several Nobel prizes won by Israeli chemists, as well as in industry. On the high-tech side, there is a steady supply of talented chemists and engineers from local universities who are often fueled by an entrepreneurial mindset.
This passion for innovation and science combined with an existing fragrance industry, that has access to global markets and funding, is the perfect breeding ground for the digital future of scent. It provides some of the brightest minds with the opportunity to learn an age-old trade while still contributing to the Israeli high-tech scene. This leads to the question - how does one bring an ancient art into a tech-driven world?
While the art of creating and branding perfumes is still key, and finding new sources for existing perfume ingredients is always important, methods for delivering the fragrances are becoming a key differentiator. When we talk about the future of the fragrance industry, the main focus is on this aspect. As the emphasis starts to evolve into sophisticated delivery and user interface models, Israel’s prowess in technology, entrepreneurship, and start-up innovation is becoming a relevant factor.
To date, Israel has had a modest role in the fragrance industry because it did not possess the relevant strategic advantages. Israel does not have a wide array of natural fragrance ingredients to crop, and the local market for perfume is small. Additionally, low-cost, large-scale manufacturing which has been a key goal in the industry in recent years, is not where Israel excels.
The market however, is evolving in a way that speaks more to Israel’s strengths, and there is a good chance that Israeli companies will be be able to capitalize on it. Israel continues to be successful at entering and disrupting mature markets with new technology, and innovative business models  and products. In this entrepreneurial culture, tradition and an ecosystem of innovation can help fuel development of new systems that can disrupt mature, and potentially stagnant fields, such as the fragrance industry.
As a leader in tech and innovation, and from a culture steeped in fragrances, it would not be surprising to see the next technological developments in fragrance come out of this country.
Dr. Yoav Avidor is CEO of Agan Aroma, at ADAMA Agricultural Solutions Ltd.