Consolidation on the supply side of the beauty industry has made privately held and family-owned businesses an anomaly, but Berjé happens to be one of those rare companies. With a passion for supplying the industry with the rarest of ingredients, always standing by their word, and the creation of a family environment, Berjé has been supplying fragrance, essential oils, aromatic chemicals, flavor, fragrance, and functional ingredients since 1949. Gillian Bleimann Boucard became the third generation to join the family business in 2006.
How did your family get into the ingredient and fragrance business?
After WWII my grandfather and uncle were introduced to the industry and first opened Berje’s doors in Soho, Manhattan. Named after their Hungarian mother, Berjé was first located on the second floor of the old NY warehouse and they would move drums up and down using a small elevator. They slowly grew the company until my father joined them 40+ years ago and truly expanded the business into what it is today.
What is your first fragrance memory?
When I was a young girl, my father had this old, beat-up leather briefcase for his work papers. I would know when he was home simply from the smell that permeated the creased and worn leather. In those days, Berjé’s office was much smaller and not well ventilated, so that leather briefcase would carry with it a wonderful smell of essential oils, aroma chemicals, and a concoction of whatever shipment that had arrived that day from Morocco or India or China. It was such a unique and familiar smell that I still miss today.
When did you know you would go into the family business?
I was fortunate that my father never hesitated to bring me on many business trips and dinners (although they would often end with me asleep at the table!) so I always felt comfortable with the world of fragrance ingredients, even if it was purely subconscious. So even through college, it never felt that there was much question that I would join the industry and company.
What is the best piece of business advice you have received from your father?
This is a difficult question as many things come to mind as my father is one of the most generous and respected mentors for me in this industry. One of the specific mantras my dad has always lived by and that has permeated Berjé’s culture is to always stand by your word. The essential oil markets can move and change very quickly, which brings with it a lot of risk. But no matter what the risk or what the market situation might be, he always delivered on his word. This often does not translate to the most profitable answer, but it has created a trusting family environment both within the company and with our network of suppliers and customers.
How do you describe the Berjé business?
The fragrance and flavor ingredients are at the heart of our business. From producing Rose oil at our site in Bulgaria, to working with local partners in Paraguay or Haiti distilling Petitgrain oil and Vetiver oil, we aim to be the experts and go-to-source for these products. Many companies are looking to eliminate or reduce their product ranges, but we look to do the opposite and are passionate about supporting even the smallest and more exotic ingredients.
Berjé is one of the few remaining privately held fragrance suppliers. How important is it to you and your father that Berjé remain an independent family-owned business?
Our status as a privately held company gives us both a flexibility and company culture that we will never give up. We can act independently and follow directions or trends that are important to us as a company, not just the bottom line.
Do you feel being a family-owned business gives you a competitive edge in an industry that has seen a tremendous amount of consolidation?
The benefits are similar to being a privately held company. Our general flexibility to react and function quickly in the markets is certainly a competitive edge. We can make decisions quickly and manage our inventories accordingly. As we get bigger as a company we have to work harder to maintain that flexibility and we need to carefully balance necessary internal systems so that we can stay nimble. The increasing consolidation in the industry is challenging for us to manage as we can often lose business as a result. The changes to the dynamics of the industry are clear, but being family owned, we can react with our customers and the supply chain.
You joined the company in 2006 and have recently become Executive Vice President. Tell us a little about your new role.
Titles in a family business are always a little constricting! Starting from day one, you must embrace both the good and bad responsibilities. This is challenging to say the least, but also an exciting test of oneself. As I have grown both personally and professionally, I have seen where I can add value both together with my father as well as independently, especially as a woman owner with my own different perspective. Berjé continues to progress and mature and it is my responsibility to see where we need to change and evolve to move towards the next generation.
What achievement are you most proud of accomplishing to date?
Greater employee communication and growth of our company community has been really important for me. We have now defined our shared company values and mission statement and started quarterly “Town Hall Communication” meetings. It can be difficult to find time outside of the daily business for these meetings, but it has helped bring greater transparency and general communication of our business challenges and priorities to all of our employees. We still have work ahead of us to continue these efforts, but it is thrilling to see the progress.
In 2017 Berjé installed 4,092 solar panels that cover 200,000 square feet of the 235,000-square-foot NJ facility. This is a significant investment—how important is sustainability to the business?
Yes! It was incredibly exciting for us both internally as a company to undergo such an accomplishment, but also externally as a member of our greater New Jersey and world community. These sustainability initiatives will be more and more important in the years to come for us as we recognize our greater impact. Our responsibilities do not stop at our front door.
What do you think is the most profound trend that is defining the future of raw ingredients and the fragrance business?
The growing consumer interest of the traceability of raw materials is profound to watch. This is already a way of life for Berjé, but we hope that the consumer can recognize the complexities in the supply chain versus just a preconceived perspective. Many fragrance raw materials have incredible stories and a great impact in their local communities that date back many generations.
What is in store for the future of Berjé?
We continue to work on both our upward and downward expansion in the supply chain and production as we continue to strengthen our partnerships at source. Additionally our use of more R&D work and focus will continue to expand and improve the diversity and efficacy of our product offerings.
What excites you about the future of the beauty industry?
There is certainly a higher consciousness of the beauty consumer about the products they are using that addresses the passion behind the raw material supply chain that is so familiar to Berjé. Our products are incredibly important and with balance we can continue to sustainably increase their usage and bring these to life.
What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in the beauty industry and what are you doing to address it?
The elimination of fake science! We continue to support the excellent work of our industry affiliations such as IFRANA to address these challenges.
If you weren’t in the fragrance business what do you think you’d be doing?
I would probably be very bored!
Photo: Mira Bozhko via Unsplash