RTL Today – Vital ingredient in perfumes: Inflation a thorn in the side of Bulgarian rose oil producers

Business isn’t a bed of roses for Bulgaria’s rose oil makers these days.

Made from Damask roses grown in the aptly named Rose Valley, the oil is an essential ingredient in the fragrances of the world’s top luxury brands such as Christian Dior, Estée Lauder and Chanel.

But a heat wave has reduced this year’s rose petal harvest, labor is hard to come by and soaring global energy prices have raised the costs of a product so valuable it is nicknamed “liquid gold”.

This year’s oil will be “considerably more expensive”, Plamen Stankovski, partner of rose oil producer and exporter Bulattars, told AFP at his distillery near Pavel Banya in Bulgaria’s famous Rose Valley. .

Production costs for a kilogram of rose oil were around 6,000 euros ($6,300) in 2021, but have jumped 40% this year.

The price of petals alone has doubled since last year, growers say.

This means that a 4.5 kilo glass jar filled with thick, golden-yellow oil could sell for more than 45,000 euros this year.

Bulgaria is the world’s largest producer of rose oil along with Turkey and the distilleries that run the precious substance on natural gas, diesel and fuel oil – products whose prices soared after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia at the end of February.

“The price of fuel has gone up two or even three times,” Stankovski said.

– ‘Not all roses’ –

Small amounts of rose oil are used in almost all high-quality perfumes, not for its aroma, but because its fixing qualities help blend other ingredients and prolong the scent on the skin.

To produce it, huge amounts of petals are boiled in massive metal vats. The vapors are then distilled to separate the oil in a process almost unchanged since the time of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.

In his family’s rose fields near Pavel Banya, Dimitar Dimitrov laments that a chronic labor shortage has plagued the sector for years.

“The picking is the most expensive because it’s only done by hand. If you don’t pick the open roses today, tomorrow they’re gone,” said the 40-year-old, who picked petals with his father and brother-in-law. -right.

Fertilizer, fuel, plowing and pruning have all become more expensive, he said.

With the price of petals having nearly doubled, he said he hoped “this will at least cover our production costs so we don’t end up in the red”.

To make matters worse, a heat wave scorched rosebuds before they could open, reducing yields and cutting the picking season in half.

Surviving flowers excrete less oil. To extract one kilo of rose oil, it now takes 4,000 kilograms of petals, which is 15% more than usual.

“We are concerned about the rising cost of our production,” said exporter Filip Lissicharov, CEO of Enio Bonchev Production in the nearby village of Tarnichane.

“The picture is not all rosy,” he added.

More fuel is now needed to sustain production, which is interrupted by erratic deliveries of petals, but the industry association’s calls for fuel subsidies have so far gone unanswered by the government .

Rose oil production is expected to fall below its usual annual volume of 2.5 tons.

– Certified ‘pure’ –

Almost 100% of the oil produced in Bulgaria is exported to countries such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Lissicharov is worried about the market’s reaction to rising prices.

“There is interest (from buyers),” he said. “But whether that interest will turn into business depends on the price.”

To prevent counterfeit products from entering the market, the oil is certified by a few designated laboratories, such as the state laboratory Bulgarska Rosa in Sofia.

The product leaves the laboratory in hermetically sealed aluminum bottles with a label that guarantees “100% pure and natural genuine Bulgarian rose oil”.

Taking shortcuts, Stankovski said, is not an option: “Whatever our problems, we will preserve the high quality of rose oil.

Sarah C. Figueiredo