by Peter Greenhalgh

Forty years ago, in the summer of 1976, about 2,000 drums of various “essential oils” from Indonesia, valued at several million dollars, arrived at ports in Northern Europe, the USA and Taiwan filled with muddy water with a hint of oil on top. This well-planned and orchestrated fraud eventually led to the foundation of the International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT). Many well-known importers from the USA, UK, Netherlands and Germany were affected by this scam – but the initiative for IFEAT’s formation came from the UK, which at that time was probably the second largest importer of essential oils after the USA.

The telephones and telexes were hot with discussions about how to re-coup the losses and how to avoid such incidents in the future. Ronald V Neal, Managing Director of Fuerst Day Lawson of London flew to the USA in August for discussion with various US organisations, including the need for an international organisation to represent the in terests of the essential oils trade. On 18th April 1977 seven members of the UK essential oils trade attended a meeting in London, chaired by M P Murray-Pearce of Cosmetics World News. A majority favoured the immediate formal establishment of an association (with the suggested name of “The International Federation of Essential Oils and Allied Trades”) and opening it to worldwide membership as soon as it had a legal entity as a non-profit company, limited by guarantee. Interim officers were elected, namely joint chairmen (Neal and Wells), secretary and treasurer (Murray-Pearce) and a Steering Committee established comprising the seven present along with three who had sent apologies. The companies were Biddle Sawyer, Blythe Greene Jordan, Cosmetic World News, De Monchy, Fuerst Day Lawson, Hamburger, R C Treatt, A E Wells and Zimmerman Hobbs. Following the meeting all the Steering Committee members endeavoured to interest a wide range of companies and organisations to join the association, the initial aims of which were:

  1. To promote international trade
  2. To agree terms of business worldwide for the settlement of disputes
  3. To liaise with the appropriate government and other official bodies worldwide
  4. To authorise and/or organise international meetings.

A range of discussions took place e.g. do we really need another association when IFRA, IOFI and various national associations were already in existence? Should membership be by individual, company or by association? Was an international essential oils contract feasible and necessary? Some traders opposed the establishment of IFEAT worried that such a body would like up producers with end users and lead to a reduced role for traders. The American Essential Oils Association was split, and Eric Bruell who was a major figure in the essential oils trade was opposed as was Derek Cox of Copelands in the UK.

After various discussions, it was agreed that these issues should be developed, presented and discussed at the 7th International Congress of Essential Oils at Kyoto, Japan. On the 9th October 1977 in the grand setting of the Kyoto Conference Hall, under the chairmanship of Ron Neal, IFEAT became a reality as the presidents of American, French, Japanese and other major associations of traders, as well as individual traders without national associations, gave their overwhelming support to the London Steering Committee’s ideas.

The meeting went on to elect the nucleus of a World Council, to be based in London, by which IFEAT would be governed. From the very start, IFEAT was an international organisation aimed at bringing growers, merchant houses and compounders from developed and developing countries closer together to harmonise their trade in essential oils and aroma chemicals. 18 nations joined IFEAT’s World Council and elected officers included R Bordas (President), R V Neal (Chairman), J L Adrian (France), C Breunesse (Netherlands), S C Datta (India, who was funded by Sant Sanganeria), R C Pisano (USA), K D Protzen (Germany), N H T Suwignyo (Indonesia) and M A Murray-Pearce (Hon. Secretary).

Two major committees were established, the Executive Committee and the Contracts Committee, chaired by Jack Abehouse, from the US Essential Oils Association, who had already drafted contract proposals. The formulation of a universally acceptable contract was too receive top priority, in part to raise the status of the essential oils trade to that of other major commodity markets trading in raw materials, such as sugar, grains, coffee, cocoa and vegetable oils. Other familiar names on the contract committee included Dr W S Brud, E J Dierberger, L Fischbeck, D Narpati and H Ueno.

IFEAT’s Memorandum and Articles of Association were presented and agreed in Kyoto, including two categories of membership – association and individual.  The 2nd IFEAT Executive Committee meeting was on Saturday 26th November 1977 at the Chelsea home of Eileen Day Lawson and chaired by Ron Neal, with many of the international officers present. Discussions centred on the draft Memorandum and Articles of Association from Kyoto, which were considered “too elaborate” by many. Membership was discussed, particularly how to increase numbers, leading to a recruitment drive, as well as the desirability of “consumers” of F&F ingredients NOT being admitted to IFEAT membership. However, if a “consumer” company were already a member of a national association then its application would not be questioned or refused. Individual company annual membership fees were agreed at $250 and for those joining via their national association at $50, substantially lower than the fees proposed in Kyoto. Other topics discussed were very similar to those that were to dominate Executive Committee discussions over the next 39 years!!

IFEAT formally came into existence on 18th May 1978 with the Certificate of Incorporation. This is how a scandal relating to drums of muddy water shipped around the world led to our thriving and vibrant federation that we know today!

Peter Greenhalgh


by Peter Greenhalgh

IFEAT: The Early Years By Peter Greenhalgh, Consultant to IFEAT This is the second instalment of Peter Greenhalgh’s “History of IFEAT” series, which is being prepared to celebrate IFEAT’s fortieth anniversary this year. It follows on from his article “The Founding of IFEAT”, published in the December 2016 issue of IFEATWORLD.

Following IFEAT’s creation in 1977 the next few years laid the foundation for the IFEAT that we know today. With much effort and considerable uncertainty, the first few years saw the foundation of IFEAT’s committee system, membership structure, educational initiatives, an irregular newsletter, an initial study tour to China in 1982 and most importantly the development of annual conferences. The early days were not easy, particularly if you were a founder member. Administration was “run on a shoestring”, predominantly by Murray-Pearce from his Cosmetic World News offices in London, and it was a struggle to meet the many expenses associated with setting up IFEAT. Insufficient funds meant that some founder members had to make donations to supplement membership subscriptions. The appointment of a Director-General was discussed in some detail but never materialised because of funding issues. As today, all the Executive Committee (EC) members met their own travel and hotel expenses when participating in any IFEAT activities.

Membership gradually increases

A recruitment drive began from the very beginning, and the annual $100 membership fee agreed in Kyoto in 1977 was soon lowered to $60 to encourage membership. Both individual companies and associations were encouraged to join as well as all industry stakeholders: producers, shippers, exporters, importers, brokers and users. Concerns were expressed over end-users becoming members and the voting structure, especially for associations. Membership numbers were not high (53 companies by late 1979) and there was resistance to the concept of IFEAT from some larger companies in our industry. Nevertheless, the EC was undaunted and, through dogged determination and effort, gradually built up IFEAT’s reputation and membership.

Formation of IFEAT committees

Various committees were formed, most of which are still in existence today e.g. Finance, Membership, Education, Technical (now Scientific), Planning (now Strategic). In addition, there was the Contract Committee, aiming to establish an essential oil trading contract. Despite several re-incarnations the “vexed question” of an IFEAT contract governing the trading of essential oils and other aromatic materials was never resolved. There was too much opposition to a general contract from some quarters. A Trade Relations Committee was established in which Richard Pisano (chair), Dr Brud and Klaus-Dieter Protzen undertook the important task of liaising with both international (especially IFRA and IOFI) and national organisations involved in the F&F sector.

Technical Information and data

An early IFEAT member was the Tropical Products Institute (TPI), a UK Government scientific organisation based in London. This organisation dates back to the late 19th century and had been intimately involved in the industry for many decades. At that time, it had by far the world’s best and most comprehensive library on essential oils, and it made this available to IFEAT members along with its information service. Today it is often forgotten that the UK, and predominantly London, was a major trading centre, along with New York and Grasse, for flavour and fragrance ingredients. Dr Clinton Green was Head of its “Essential Oils, Spices, Gums and Resin Section” and was closely involved in IFEAT’s development, both as a provider of technical expertise and later as Conference Programme Coordinator. TPI staff often gave papers at IFEAT Conferences and provided considerable technical support to IFEAT activities.

Early IFEAT Conferences

Over the past 40 years, conferences have taken pride of place in IFEAT activities. In the early years, IFEAT held a Conference every two years, while the third year was devoted to the International Congress of Essential Oils (ICEO), later becoming the International Congress of Essential Oils, Flavours and Fragrances (ICEOFF). The first triennial ICEO was held in Reggio Calabria, Italy in 1956 and these Congresses were much larger affairs than the early IFEAT Conferences. They were dominated by scientific/technical papers rather than commercially-orientated papers. In establishing IFEAT Conferences, the EC had a number of objectives. Increasingly the aromatic ingredients industry was a dynamic and rapidly evolving sector and conferences needed to reflect these changes. Annual meetings were much preferred to triennial ones; conferences needed to be more commercially orientated; by attending, delegates would be able to update themselves on the many changes taking place, not only by listening to presentations but also by putting questions to experts on subjects such as legislation, which was becoming a major issue for the trade. This was particularly the case from 1992 when the 12 countries in the European Community (later the European Union) intended to be regulated as one market. The number regulations and laws expanded alongside the expansion of membership of the EU, which by 2017 had reached 27. Whether EU membership numbers continue to expand or decline remains to be seen!

The first IFEAT Conference, and associated World Council meeting, was planned for October 1979 in Cairo, Egypt but was switched to Bangalore, India to coincide with a four day “Seminar on Essential Oils” being organised by UNCTAD/GATT/ITC along with CHEMEXIL. Many speakers that IFEAT had arranged for Cairo were willing to switch to Bangalore, and IFEAT’s efforts in making Bangalore a success were much appreciated by the organisers. Nevertheless, it was a relatively small affair compared with recent conferences, with approximately 80 foreign attendees alongside several hundred Indian companies. Some excellent presentations and discussions took place. To quote Ron Neal: “It was a very good Congress because we started out with not too high hopes, but in the end it proved to be very unusual in my experience of these congresses. It had a very high top rate participation from abroad.”

Education is an early IFEAT objective

Support for education was an early IFEAT initiative, with the 1980 Cannes Congress seeing IFEAT launch David William’s Perfumery Correspondence course, while the 1984 Cairo Conference saw the first IFEAT Medal Lecture by Dr Brian Lawrence, but these are stories for future instalments of IFEAT history! The founders would no doubt be amazed at how successfully IFEAT has developed! Today, virtually every country and sector involved in the global industry is represented in the membership, and the annual IFEAT Conference has become a major item on the F&F industry calendar.


Peter Greenhalgh


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