AmyGalper

How Fragrance Companies Are Navigating Shifts In The Essential Oil Industry With Lin Corte

CBW 16 | Essential Oil Industry

Biolandes is an independent family-owned French company whose core activity is the production of aromatic plant extracts for professionals in the beauty, well-being and nutrition sectors. Recently they acquired Eden Botanicals, a US-based essential oil company. In this episode, Amy Galper talks with Lin Corte, the General Manager of Biolandes in North America. The conversation explores how the essential oil industry is growing and changing and how flavor and fragrance companies are navigating these shifts. Are you interested in getting some real insights into the fragrance industry? Join us for this eye-opening and honest conversation.

Listen to the podcast here

How Fragrance Companies Are Navigating Shifts In The Essential Oil Industry With Lin Corte

On the episode, I have Lin Corte, who is the General Manager for Biolandes North America. Biolandes is a French-based essential oil company that sources grow and produces essential oils and sells them around the world. I’m excited to have Lin here with us to talk about his amazing career in the essential oil and natural space for over fourteen years, and for us to learn more about how essential oils are grown, produced, sold, and more. Lin, thank you for coming here and talking to us.

Thank you very much for the invitation.

I’d love to kick off our conversation for you to introduce yourself and more in-depth to everybody who’s reading. People would love to learn more about, number one, history of Biolandes. It’s one of the large producers of essential oils here in the world, and a little bit more about what you do as a company, a little history on Biolandes and your role as General Manager in North America, what you’ve been doing in this space.

A few words about myself. I arrived in the US many years ago. It was to work for a facility in New Jersey that make extractions from plant from the nutraceutical industry. That’s where I started falling in love with working with plants. Four years after, I joined Biolandes and that’s where I discovered essential oils, perfume and aromatherapy, which is an amazing world. Do you want a few words about Biolandes?

Yes. I would love you to tell people who don’t know much about what Biolandes is and maybe talk about your partnership now with Eden Botanicals. Many of you who are reading may know that I have, over the years, talked about Eden Botanicals, which is an essential oil company that was started here in the United States and was based in Northern California. For those of you who took classes with me or shopped at my boutique in the East Village between the years of 2013 and 2020 in New York City, you know that I even sold and shared many of their oils. I would love you to share about Biolandes, what they do, and how you started working with Eden Botanicals.

Biolandes company based in the Southwest of France in a rural area in the middle of the forest. The DNA of the company is a mix of reality and science. The founder who founded the company in 1980s was a scientist and he found a way to make distillation in a continuous way. That’s what started the adventure. In terms of size, it’s not huge. It’s about 800 or 900 employees worldwide. What makes Biolandes different is that we own some organic farms in Madagascar, Bulgaria, Morocco, and now Canada.

We have distillation and extraction units in different places in the world, a lot in France, Spain. Our DNA is rural. We offer a full understanding of the supply chain. That’s where we encountered Eden Botanicals. We were one of their vendors and Eden Botanicals was in the middle of the way where in their model, if they wanted to develop, they would have a need in their business model in the way they approach their customers to have their own and go in this direction.

It’s different and complicated to go in this direction. What we were doing before was high-quality trade than starting an industrial farm, all of those and having your own labs to the different expertise. It would have been difficult for Eden Botanicals to grow that way. The owner was finding a way to get there without taking the risk to do all that. That’s why he contacted us.

In the meantime, I was looking for a way to have more local implantation in North America because we sell a lot. We have a decent amount of sales. Maybe 20% of our sales are in North America, but we did not have enough. This was not our DNA. I wanted a farm. I wanted it to be built in North America and locally again. If possible, reduce our carbon footprint. By shipping the mass, we could buy both and increase the level of service to be able to offer small quantities and be reactive. All that was offered by Eden Botanicals, so that’s why we decided to join forces.

Biolandes right now have farms in Madagascar, Bulgaria and now in Canada. How many different kinds of plants are you currently distilling? Do you have a wide range of oils or do you specialize in specific ones? Do you farm all of them or only a few of them?

If we speak about Biolandes, it is different than Eden Botanicals. Those are rough numbers. We used to produce 80% of the products we were selling. On that 80%, we used to grow 10% to 20% of those things because sometimes we buy the raw material or we buy the essential. Our business model, if you take the rose in Bulgaria, is to have a farm, so you have a yearly implantation, you have the expertise, and you have your own production. Some years, it could be beneficial for you and some years it’s not because the market is low and you better buy than produce yourself.

Mix that with buying the rose from farmers and buying the essential oils from farmers that have their own distillery. You’re not only producing, but you have all those options with you knowing that you are here, you are over there during the whole year and for decades. In Bulgaria, it’s been since 1980. You grow, use expertise and you know who to work with, and that’s what is important. To produce is great because it gives you some legitimacy and some years it’s beneficial for you because the margin is not going to be good. In some years, it goes the other way. The fact of being there all year long working with local people and having local employees, that’s what makes the big difference.

CBW 16 | Essential Oil Industry
Essential Oil Industry: Being there all year long working with local people and having local employees makes a big difference.

Have you yourself had a chance to travel over the years to different locations, farms and participate in any of the distillations?

Yes, you’re more than welcome to come. I don’t know if you could do a podcast there and try to understand it is eye-opening.

There are a few artisan distillers that I know here in the United States that I have distilled with, and I also am friendly with a distiller up in Quebec who I have gone and worked with and seen. I love that process. Before the pandemic, I was taking students on what I called retreats or trips to go distill. This is something to keep in mind. Thank you for the invitation. That would be amazing.

I guess now then, if you did North America, you have a lot of different questions about who is working there. How they’re treated? Those are important questions for you and your readers that you could work in a poor country, how does that work? What is the reality behind the essential art that you receive? It could be interesting.

Yes, that’s important. I think more people buying raw materials, whether it is coconut oil, cocoa butter, mango butter, or whatever it is, want to understand who is growing, harvesting, producing, and extracting these botanicals. They want to know that whoever they’re purchasing from is aligned with their own values as far as being sustainable, trying to create community, and contribute back to community and all of that.

People who buy raw materials really want to understand who is actually growing, harvesting and producing and extracting these botanicals. They want to make sure that whoever they're purchasing from is aligned with their own values. Click To Tweet

Let’s talk about this because this is an important topic. What kinds of initiatives does Biolandes do to help communities that you work with, let’s say in Madagascar? I know they are disenfranchised, has issue and has a lot of problems. What kinds of work do you do with these communities to help further empower them economically or socially? It’d be nice to know.

First, which is important to me is you have to do your job well. What you’re doing is paying your taxes, employing the people, and declaring the people you employ, taking care of their health insurance, retirement and everything. You have to abide by the law. It looks like the basics, but it’s not respected in most countries. Sometimes, it’s difficult to respect it. If I give you an example, we want to contribute for people for their retirement.

The system in some countries, they would prefer you to give them the money because they don’t trust their government to give them money after in retirement. It’s a gray area, so what do you do? What is the best? If we go by Western standards, we are going to declare and pay to the government. It’s a lot of questions and challenges that in as far as making the right choices and decisions.

The additional projects around the community and things that we do that too. When you are fair for life with some fair-trade certifications guidelines on how to do it and what it’s sufficient, it’s working. My initial thought was are we the right person to do that? Do you want a professional to manage that project? It’s working well. The other thing, and I’m sorry to get there, but I don’t want to use sustainability as a selling point. I don’t want to over-display. I don’t like that from the industry, so I’m not going to spend much time speaking about that. I think that is not working, people making too much noise about sustainability and that doesn’t make a lot of changes on the ground.

What’s important is do your job right, pay your workers, pay your taxes, obey by the work, respect the environment, the rules about treatment of the water, and things like that. That would be the main thing, and then take care and do all the projects around the community, which are important and works. That’s why certification in Fair Trade asks you to do that. I don’t know if you understand that.

Yes, I do understand. I can make an analogy within the beauty industry as a whole, or the way that people talk about ingredients, that there are the use buzzwords that people are looking for that don’t have a lot of foundation to them, or people don’t understand what they mean or what it’s about. They are using them in trying to leverage it more for marketing and sales rather than from understanding what sustainability or something entails. Do you know what I’m saying?

From the whole beginning of the company, what you said, what’s an important value for you is to treat people well with respect and help nurture an environment that is transparent and community-based that’s important. People throw these terms around without thinking. I had a guest in one of my programs. I do a mentorship program for clean beauty entrepreneurs, and I had a guest come in and talk about sustainable packaging.

Yes, there are sustainable packaging efforts, but to have true sustainable packaging, we’re not there yet. When people talk about sustainable packaging, this is a process. This is not like a paradigm shift. It’s not that this is a way for you to judge or decide whether the company is doing good work. In the industry of essential oils and aromatherapy, we’re faced with the same challenges of trying to move the needle, shift the paradigm, get people to think about things less in black and white. “I’m this, I’m not this,” and understand the whole cycle of the experience. I’m glad you brought that up.

What I understand and agree with, we are going to work with Eden Botanicals on that now that they have direct access to the farm and that people want to understand their impact. Let’s answer that. Let’s say you want to understand your impact, so let’s provide the maximum information so you understand what is behind your purchase. That’s where I feel comfortable that I understand this concern.

We are bombarded by horrible information, and we are all anxious, we need to understand what we want to have the capacity to react to that at our small scale. Everybody is doing something at their small scale, and then it’s going to have an impact. We have to find ways for people to empower them and understand what they do when they purchase products. I’m on board and it’s a lot of work. We’ll work on that.

CBW 16 | Essential Oil Industry
Essential Oil Industry: Everybody is doing something at a small scale. It will ultimately have an impact.

Yes, and that is going to be continual. It’s not like you finish that. This is growing and evolving every day. I love the way that you said what’s important is when someone comes to you, they want to really at the root of what they’re asking is what their impact is. If you can answer that and the purchaser, the brand owner, whoever it might be truly resonates with that, then that’s so important. I don’t think people are asking that question in the right way. Thank you for bringing that up. That was good to hear.

Let’s talk about the industry, aromatherapy and essential oil industry or market. I have been working with essential oils for over twenty years. I’ve been a professional in this space. I had a private practice. I’ve been a teacher and a product developer. I co-authored a couple of books. I’ve been in this world for a while and I am amazed at how different it is. You came in years ago. It is like a 180 turn on what is going on in this space.

I’d love for you to talk about the shifts that are happening now that you think are positive and beneficial and some of the shifts that are happening are not good. I’m excited every day that more people are talking about essential oils. You see it lit in the media on social media, you see it in The New York Times, all over the place. People are talking about it.

Many years ago, if I met someone and tried to explain what an essential oil was, it was terrible. No one cared. No one was interested. Now suddenly, even the most unlikely person knows what an essential oil is. That’s a good thing because raising awareness of these beautiful aromatic extracts and how much plants offer us to benefit our health, well-being, and world is hugely important. On the other hand, this raised awareness, this raised market also increases demand, causes all sorts of crazy capitalistic maneuvers in the market that are damaging. We are dealing with a lot of problems that we didn’t have years ago. I’d love you to share your experience in this.

Twenty years ago, no one was really interested in essential oils. But now suddenly, even the most unlikely person knows what an essential oil is. Click To Tweet

Compared to years ago when I arrived in the industry, it was booming years. I will call that the Whole Foods era. When Whole Foods was growing, they have this policy of bringing new brands all the time and being careful about all those new values that were arriving. A good symptom of that is Trade show Expo West. If you see where it came from and where it began, this massification is impressive. It came for us. It opened a lot of opportunities, opened a lot of doors. The doors were resistant about why are essential oil so expensive?

I say, these are pure essential oil. The market was adulterated in that age. It was coming from the fragrance industry. What is important in the fragrance is the organoleptic and you by cheating and things like that, it was adulterated, so they were not at the beginning. You guys are the expensive guys. You are too fancy for us. They had to understand. They had to test their oil and they pushed these new trends. They started to realize what they were buying and the consequences over there and production and their customer putting pressure on them. Where do you buy essential oil? What’s happening behind it? They have all those questions that were not answered and they needed those answers.

CBW 16 | Essential Oil Industry
Essential Oil Industry: What is essential in the fragrance is organoleptic.

They then understood what we were doing and it opened a lot of doors for us, new opportunities, new projects, and things that were great. The downside of that is everybody starts to do sustainability. For instance, everybody was organic, but not everybody was organic. If you dig in the cheating part, start investing in areas that were not invested. People did not care because it was not a selling point before. I was not making any sense to bring a fake set organic certificate or answering questions about sustainability wrong because nobody was asking the people that were interested, but then they understood there was a problem.

This massification brought new trends and new problems. As far as the quality, I tell you, even back in the day, there was a lot of alliteration in the ‘80s, ‘90s. I don’t think it had an impact on the quality. Even the big actors stopped selling because of reputation. They knew that they could be in trouble if they stopped selling those mixes under lavender oil. When you buy lavender oil from a big actor, it’s not a natural lavender oil, which was not the case in the past. That’s what I saw and I would say for 2 or 3 years, it’s been plateauing in time of growing brands in aromatherapy. In aromatherapy, you had all those brands that started on Amazon, and those products are not good. They’re agitated.

I forgot that there is a good company in Chilean Essential Oil here. I think they’re in Chile. The Chilean Essential Oil, CEO have good information on sustainability and things like that. She phrased it, “Good sustainability has to come from the CEO, not from the marketing.” What we saw with this massification is the request was coming from the final customers, then through the marketing. It was not rare at that time, and it still happened. The sustainability is under the marketing department, which is not working. That’s not what you want.

True sustainability has to come from the CEO, not from marketing. Click To Tweet

You want the CEO of the company to understand the stakes and put in place the sustainability policy and rules. The problem then with this massification that was coming from the final customers, a lot of pressure came from marketing in those companies. They developed those things that before was carried by the CEOs and it was a small number of companies. Now it was everybody, but it was more driven by the final customer than the marketing. It did not always work as well as when it’s the CEO who is motivated by those problems and concerns. Am I being clear? Sorry.

You’re being very clear. When this starts being adopted by the marketing teams of these larger companies without the foundation or the real values behind it, it becomes a real problem. It’s unfortunate that your general consumer, your new consumer of essential oils, has a hard time being able to understanding. Maybe someone wants to buy an essential oil. Let’s say they started learning about it and they go on Amazon to purchase because everything is sold on Amazon. Do you have any tips for them about how they could possibly begin to discern what a good quality oil is and what a not a good quality is? Do you have any tips for people?

The right way to know is to test and go onsite and audit. This is not what you can do as a purchaser. Some companies do it, like Aura Cacia, Mountain Rose Herbs, even like of course Doran Young Living. They have labs. They know what to do. If you buy something, compare all those names. Obviously, Eden Botanicals. Look at those prices, see who is a cheaper, who is most expensive and look at other brands. If in your other brands you see the price that are 50% cheaper, that doesn’t make sense. This has to be a warning. Either you can take this opportunity if you can test the oil, which is going to cost you about $300 or something like that. It’s not going to tell you if the workers at the end of the supply chain are well paid or anything like that.

Somehow you have to make this price you find you, have to find a company like Byron that makes 10% profit more or less. That’s where we are. You need profits to invest and be healthy, but that doesn’t give you that much room to change the price. It’s not like we are not making 50%, 60% profit and then we could change the price, that there is no magic. Essential oil is a distillation. Yes, you can be better on the time of year and not too crazy price difference. Speak with people, see the brand command and check the price. It’s a good indication.

People who try to get into the market, they’re going to try to get you by the price. It’s a good way to get you there. Companies like Aura Cacia audit onsite. They are the standard people there. Of course, doTERRA have their on-site and the passionate people, the small shops. Maybe they cannot go on site and test all the oils, but they speak with each other and they have that logic, so they know who tests and the CEO, the prices and they can say, “That smells fishy.” Also, what I want to say, an adulterated oil can smell very good. That’s not the way to know if your essential oil is adulterated or not.

It’s very tricky. I want to reiterate for people to summarize what you’re talking about because I have brought this up with my students and people who ask me. When you’re starting out, there are two things that you brought up which I think are important. Number one, it’s important to investigate different companies. I tell my students to do this. Buy a sample. Many companies will allow you to get 1 or 2 milliliter sample and collect a couple of samples of the same plant, like lavender, for example, or whatever, oil, Clary Sage, whatever it is that you’re looking for. Start smelling the differences between them to understand what they smell.

Number two is to understand the pricing. Price is one of the biggest red flags that we have to indicate that there’s something going on with the oil if it is offered that inexpensively. As you said, something fishy is going on. There’s no way a pure, beautiful oil that has all of its components and hasn’t been manipulated in any way could be at that price in the market. That’s a good indication.

CBW 16 | Essential Oil Industry
Essential Oil Industry: Price is one of the biggest red flags that we have to indicate that there’s something going on with the oil. If it is offered inexpensively, something fishy is going on.

Even though I said it’s important to smell, I want to talk about your point that even an adulterated oil can smell beautiful. In a way, that’s the point of adulteration. They’re trying to manipulate the molecules in a way to make it smell good and more people buy it. They’re trying to manipulate it in a way. Even though you are smelling the oil, my recommendation is to buy a lavender oil from Eden Botanicals and know that is of the highest quality.

It is completely pure. It is not manipulated in any way. Make that your comparison. That is what I’m going to compare every other lavender I get from Amazon to. If you notice those different smell differences along with price, that sometimes can be an indication. Lavenders that come from around the world have different aromas. The lavender from India, the lavender from the US and the lavender from England all have different scent profiles. However, you will begin to see a similarity in some way in those that are pure when you start practicing.

That’s a great practice. I would add to that, that pesticides don’t smell. Contaminants don’t smell, but that’s what we test all the time. When you have an organic, you’re supposed to test and we test. I don’t know how many people we have in our lab, but it’s a lot and a lot of equipment because we have to test all the time, everything. I told you how the environment rules are respected at the end of the supply chain. Do the people pay their taxes in Madagascar or do they try to avoid it? All those things are not something you can smell and have consequences on the price. Even if you have two herbs that smell very similar, you would need to go a bit further.

You have to scratch way beyond the surface, which is why it’s important to get educated. If you want to learn more about essential oils, you want to be able to understand all of these different aspects of the oil that Lin is talking about. Getting the proper training and education is important. Your testing is then even beyond the GCMS testing, right? You’re testing for contaminants and everything else.

You have to know what you’re looking for. I can give you the whole spectrum, the whole molecule and all of that. I know what is in the plants. Depending on the material, sometimes you have to use different equipment and way of GC. You have GCMS. See the equipment you put after the GC. It’s more complicated than having a GC and you know exactly what is the plan.

I tell that to my students all the time. The GCMS, I feel like people get a little crazy when they’re asking. This is your basic consumer. They’re like, “I want the GCMS report with that oil.” That’s only giving them, as you said, part of the story. Not only that, for a layperson, someone who has no training or understanding of what GC is, it means nothing to them. They can’t interpret that.

That interpretation is not going to reveal, necessarily all of the therapeutic actions or how good or how you know any more about the aromatic profile or the organalytic experience. There’s so much that the GCS is leaving out that I am always a little disappointed when there’s too much emphasis on that within the industry. I’m talking about people who are aromatherapists and beauty people. They put too much weight on it where I feel like there are other areas that need to be considered when you’re talking about quality.

It’s an amazing tool. It’s magic to see all the molecules. It’s a beautiful document and it’s interesting, if you’re looking for some content, it has its limit. Also, when basic limit is, you don’t know if the GCMS that you’re looking for, unless you have done it or you have asked the lab to do it for you. That’s a common alliteration, people not putting the GCMS of the product you’re having. You also have to be careful with that.

You’re saying that people use a different GC on their oil?

Yes.

What are you saying, that they’ll take someone else’s GC and attach it?

Yes.

That’s terrible and you would never know. That’s horrible. Look at all these things people are doing. Take everything with a grain of salt.

I’m sorry. Some people’s been aware of that for a long time. They’ve been testing the oil for a long time. They know what they’re doing. I’m trying to be as transparent as possible.

That’s what makes your work important for the industry and everything. Before we say goodbye, I have some quick questions for you. Now that you’ve been in the world for so long, do you yourself use essential oils? Are you someone who uses that?

Since I’m a kid, my mother let me grow up with Ravintsara. Now, I switched. Alexia is a company in Canada that we have now, and they have developed one blend called the Complex 25, and it has a better taste. It’s a mix of Napoli, Ravintsara, and Eucalyptus and maybe ginger, something that’s pungent and I like it. That’s why I like to smell lavender to calm me down.

Even as a kid, you were growing up with plants and had that connection. Lin, please is there anything that you want to share about Biolandes or Eden that you want to share with our readers I want to thank you again for coming. Is there anything else you want to say before we say goodbye?

For Eden Botanicals customers, we are working hard on revamping the website. It’s going to be easier for them to have access to information like the one you were asking me for. Please hang tight, and hopefully, we are going to have a new design on the website that’s going to value more all the resource education content and information on the essential oil and you can participate too. We could invite you or do a little thing like that.

I would love that. I’ve been working with Eden for a long time now and I’m really excited by what they do and what they stand for. I’m excited to have met you and talked to you about essential oils and the aromatherapy industry. It’s been great. Thank you, Lin.

Thank you, Amy. Thank you so much.

Important Links

He was first in charge of the logistics of one of the main botanical extraction facilities in the USA before joining the sales team in charge of the food and nutraceutical market.

He finally joined BIOLANDES 9 years ago and now leads their operations in North America and their 40 employees in charge of the farming, distillation, logistics and sales.

About Lin Corte

CBW 16 | Essential Oil IndustryLin Corte is in charge of BIOLANDES North American operations, which include EDEN BOTANICALS in California and ALIKSIR in Canada. Graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, he has spent the last 15 years in the industry of natural extracts and essential oils.

Share this post