Three of LVMH Beauty's houses — Parfums Christian Dior, Givenchy Parfums and Kenzo Parfums — are partnering with French cooperative Cristal Union to support an agroecology program for the farming of beets, the base ingredient in the production of alcohol for its fragrance formulations. Formes de Luxe spoke with Bruno Bavouzet, R&D Executive Vice President at LVMH about how this project fits in with the group’s LIFE 360 sustainability program.
The partnership between LVMH Beauty and Cristal Union covers 45% of Parfums Christian Dior, Givenchy Parfums and Kenzo Parfum’s mass balance sourcing needs for alcohol for its fragrances. What is behind this program?
Given that alcohol makes up around 80% of a fragrance’s formula, our beauty division has a sustained demand for this ingredient. We are working more and more on projects specifically related to regenerative agriculture, an approach that promotes agricultural and food models that are resilient, sustainable and favor perennial ecosystems. This means setting up locally adapted agronomic practices whose aim is to restore soil quality. But we need to be prudent and verify the accuracy and relevance of our practices over numerous seasons.
We chose to work on this with Cristal Union as the cooperative is already one of our main partners and is also a major player in beet sugar in France and the European leader in the sugar, alcohol, and bioethanol markets. Our discussions began two years ago, and our research project started in the field with the first 2023 sowing.
Where do you source your alcohol today?
We mainly source in France, from Cristal Union and other suppliers. Local supply equates to a lower environmental impact. The question of how to diversify agroecological practices with other partners is also something we are working towards.
What does LVMH’s financing of the partnership entail?
Through the premium we are paying on top of the alcohol price, we are covering the risks that this transition can entail, including eventual yield loss, or investment in new material. Basically, the idea is to shoulder the potential short-term risks to usher in change in the long term. From a cost perspective, this of course means that at this stage we are paying more for the raw material.
What quantities are we talking about?
For these quantities, we ensure that we are above the regeneration threshold (ie. regeneration index > 40), meaning that we can say with certainty that in this context we are engaged in a virtuous practice. But we have to stay humble: there is a long road ahead when it comes to volumes as the end goal is to reach 100%.
The regeneration index, devised by the French association Pour Une Agriculture du Vivant (PADV) allows us to measure the progress of regenerative practices on agricultural land. Although Cristal Union has its own in-house index, for this partnership we’ll work with the PADV index. It’s important to have an independent body that will track our progress and audit the results.
Does this alternative approach to beet cultivation result in better quality alcohol?
No, there is no impact on the finished product when it comes to beets. This is not always the case with other crops, where farming practices can modify and sometimes improve the plant’s quality on a molecular level.
Illustrating LVMH Beauty's partnership with Cristal Union: a field with an inter-row mulch to limit weed regrowth
These first 380 hectares are part of an ambitious plan in line with LVMH’s LIFE 360 roadmap...
Indeed, this fits into our global strategy to support farming practices with a lesser environmental impact. LVMH’s goal is to rehabilitate five million hectares of land by 2030, and as of 2022, 1.37 million hectares have been rehabilitated. A number of our houses have launched initiatives either via wholly owned subsidiaries or with partners that are audited by independent organizations like the UEBT (Union for Ethical Biotrade).
In addition to Dior, Givenchy and Kenzo, are other houses set to join the project?
Within the framework of LVMH's global corporate sustainability program LIFE 360, each of our houses builds its own sustainability roadmap, and chooses the projects it wants to support. Dior, Givenchy and Kenzo volunteered to embark on this initiative from the start. Our partnership with Cristal Union isn’t the only alcohol-related sourcing project; LVMH Beauty has other approaches, such as in the field of biotechnology where alcohol can be generated without plants.
The three perfume & cosmetics maisons and Cristal Union have also instigated research with 12 partner farms. What does this entail?
Financing this program allows us to go further in our sustainable practices. There are several experimental protocols being applied to distinct parcels every year. First, to reduce the amount of nitrogen input without reducing the crop’s yield, which means, for example, bringing organic matter via a rich variety of plant cover that fixes the nitrogen. Limiting or eliminating the use of mineral fertilizer is another area of research.
As a luxury player, our role is also to bring new technologies into the game. These are often on a small scale and have a cost premium, so the goal is to scale up to lower costs. In this case, we are testing new methods of production to lower the amount of non-organic materials, and this includes pesticides. The idea is to benchmark conventional farming versus agroecological methods as well as organic farming. We’ll be monitoring the results over the next three years with Genesis, a start-up specialized in soil health analysis. Following each initiative, we measure the composition of the soil, the level of nutrients, etc.
Are there bridges between these initiatives for LVMH Beauty and the group's wine and spirits houses?
Definitely. As head of R&D for the Beauty division, I work with my colleagues from other sectors, and in this area specifically with the wine and spirits houses that experiment with different agricultural practices. The key difference is that wine and spirits work in much longer time frames for their crops. Planting a vine and harvesting its fruit is a ten-year process, whereas beet cultivation, like other plants such as roses and jasmine, is considerably shorter.
We have communal approaches when it comes to creating autonomous ecosystems, or ‘living soil’ with the bacteria and other organisms that that entails. We’re looking at all of this, but it’s not a simple process, especially given the challenges of climate change, global warming, and water shortages.
We have to safeguard tradition, while renewing our practices through innovation. At LVMH we’re accelerating the number of partnerships we have with third parties, be they universities or start-ups. This is in line with Gaïa, an in-house program to accelerate technology in support of the LIFE 360 strategy. We look for partners the world over for their knowledge and expertise over the long term; that’s the time frame needed to fully understand how an eco-system functions.
Are there other projects in the pipeline?
Of course. Don’t forget that LVMH’s product portfolio relies on the use and the transformation of natural resources: fragrance ingredients, but also those for skincare whose formulas can be up to 80% natural; fashion and accessories with cotton and leather, vineyards for wine and spirits… In all of these sectors we have programs underway to create more sustainable sourcing practices.