Imitation perfumes invade Algerian market
By Mouna Sadek for Magharebia in Algiers – 09/01/09
Strong scents of jasmine, roses and lilac overwhelm passers-by who approach the entrance to the El Baraka boutique in central Algiers.
Inside the shop, in front of the bottles adorning the counter, Nassima leafs through the catalogue of name-brand fragrances for which imitations are available. A secretary for a state-run company, Nassima intends to buy herself no fewer than five imitation luxury perfumes for her bridal trousseau.
"Even if I buy a dozen of these copies, that won't cost as much as a single bottle of an original perfume, so I'll save a lot. They have the same scent as the originals, it's just that the copies don't last as long," she explained. "I have to think about the preparations for my wedding and I can't afford a perfume that would cost half of what I earn," she said. "That would be crazy."
She then carefully selects the crystal bottles into which imitations of Givenchy's Amarige, Dior's Midnight Poison and the renowned Chanel No. 5 will be poured.
In this shop, renowned fragrances which embody dreams, sensuality and desire bear no labels or special markings. Customers choose generic, refillable bottles to contain copies of famous brands.
Bootleg perfume vendors are quick to point out that their replica fragrance business does no harm. "What we do here is imitation, not forgery. There's a big difference. The basic extracts are original. We make products of excellent quality, no one can deny that. The Chinese haven't gotten into this market. Our suppliers are all based in Europe," one store manager behind the counter explained.
"There aren't many people who can offer a perfume for 6,000 dinars," he added. "Maybe there's a minority of people who can buy them when they go abroad on holiday, but for the vast majority of Algerians, who earn barely 15,000 dinars a month, they're a luxury item."
One of the other managers insists that the products they import are tested by European laboratories. "We have testing and conformity certificates. There are also the quality and fraud inspection services of the Ministry of Trade," he asserted.
Shops which offer imitation perfumes usually have names inspired by religion, such as El Baraka, or names with eastern connotations, such as Sansabil or the Parfumeries d'Andalousie.
Sansabil in Algiers offers imitations of nearly 400 brands consisting of a mixture of 20-45% perfume essence, 10% distilled water and the rest alcohol. Each perfume shop seems to have its own recipe.
Consumers are concerned that perfume-makers try to maximise their profits by using low-quality alcohol such as methyl instead of the much more expensive ethyl. Most of the perfume-shop managers we spoke to deny resorting to such ruses.
Prices vary from one shop to the next, but, as one retailer noted, "These perfumes only cost a tenth of the price of the originals." Industry experts agree that the demand for brand names depends on people's income. The cost of French labels may be oppressive to many, so the imitation market fills a need, especially since, as El Baraka's owners told Magharebia, there is now "a perfume culture in Algeria".
At El Baraka, a 50ml bottle averages about 500 dinars, while at the Parfumeries d'Andalousie, 50ml bottles retail for 800 dinars. Prices are the same for all imitation brands. In high-end boutiques the cost of a 50ml bottle of an original brand-name perfume ranges from 5,200 to 8,000 dinars.
"The fact is that these products have an aura of magic about them. It's a matter of self-pampering. No one would want to buy a perfume for 150 dinars," said Hakim Laribi, the chief executive of the Cophyd Group, a member of the Perfume-Makers' and Cosmetics Association.
Still, he conceded, "Making luxury perfumes doesn't cost a lot."
Big international manufacturers carry out very thorough marketing studies, Laribi explained, adding that his own research has revealed the level of quality that Algerians want.
"I did a test with lavender. I gave people different varieties of lavender ranging from the most expensive to the lowest quality. Seventy per cent of the people we spoke to prefer the lowest-quality one. The big internationals are definitely questioning why they should offer top-quality perfumes. Levels of required quality and consumption can differ."
The rising value of the euro has pushed up the price of name-brand, authentic perfumes. As a result, the Algerian market is swamped with forgeries. Many consumers have even come to believe it is preferable to use imitation products rather than labelled merchandise. At least they know what's in the copycat fragrances.
"Even in the highest-end boutiques you can find products that can pose health risks," said Zhor, a teacher who regularly buys imitation perfumes.
The Ministry of Trade has raised the alert regarding the forgery of perfumes and cosmetics. Customs officers have seen the importation of forged products spike. Cosmetics and hygiene products are number one on their list of confiscated goods, accounting for 30.86% of seizures. In 2007 they captured over 2 million counterfeit items in some 50 or so sweeps.
Big manufacturers are less concerned by the perfume imitation business, however, than they are by the forgery of packaged products.
"If you go into a shop where there are no Chanel or Dior labels, you can't accuse them of anything," said Hakim Laribi.
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