No matter how dense the crowds may get at the local department store’s makeup counters, one thing never fails to stop me in my tracks: the scent of Shalimar by Guerlain. It’s my mother’s favorite perfume and I would know it anywhere, partly for its sophisticated and elegant fragrance and partly for the warm feelings I get when I smell it and think of her.

They say scent is one of the most powerful triggers of memory. In fact, if the area of the brain that stores memory becomes damaged, individuals may even have trouble identifying smells.

Well, my memory is pretty sharp, so perhaps that’s why I smell something distinctly fishy emanating from the offices of a multi-million dollar beverage giant.

Smell Deception
As if PepsiCo’s junk food and drink offerings weren’t artificial enough already, the company is considering adding another layer to the mix. PepsiCo filed a patent in early May for integrating aroma-releasing material into its product packaging. That’s right, artificial scents may soon be par for the course if you consume PepsiCo products, according to

The rationale makes perfect sense to the junk food giant. Shoppers expect their foods and drinks to have an intense and fresh aroma, so why not give it to them? If your products can’t offer the experience on their own, add it in, of course!

I have a real problem with this. To me, it’s just another way of duping shoppers into thinking they’re getting something they aren’t. Orange juice should smell and taste like the fruit because the ingredients are fresh and delicious, not because of some glorified scratch-and-sniff packaging. Likely, if shoppers smell a fresh fruit flavor, they will mistakenly believe  they are eating something fresh and healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Worse, it’s unconscionable that shoppers likely wouldn’t be aware of the smell deception. Artificial food colors and flavors are disclosed on ingredient lists, but I doubt there are requirements for fake scents in packaging.

The company says it’s all about creating an experience, not about the product itself. PepsiCo is well aware of the memory–emotion connection; the company feels its aroma-releasing packaging will be reassuring and satisfying to shoppers. Just like the way people often crack open a shampoo bottle to see how it smells before they buy it, “scent sampling” is a powerful purchase motivator, and PepsiCo knows it.

To me, this is one of the biggest differences between us and them. PepsiCo sees nothing wrong with manipulating shoppers’ impressions of a product with phony colors, flavors and now scents. It could lead to better sales, and there’s nothing more important to the junk food titan.

Conversely, the natural products industry puts its all into products that stand on their own, void of any synthetic additives. The “experience” we want for shoppers is about true taste and health benefits, not a manufactured reality. It’s about transparency and honesty. And that’s something shoppers can smell a mile away. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2013