One of the first appearances of the rose essential oil industry took place in the 13th century when the apothecary rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, became the foundation of a large industry near the city of Provence, France. This species of rose was used to produce jellies, powders, and oils, and was believed to cure a multitude of illnesses (European Medicines Agency, source, 2013). Below is more information about the production and trade of rose oil around the world.
The rose essential oil industry is centered in Bulgaria, where the country maintained a monopoly over this product until the industry’s peak around World War I. After a decline throughout most of the 20th century, rose cultivation for essential oil production experienced a renewal in the late 1990’s and has now reached about 6,000 tons per year (Biolandes, source, 2014; (Guenther, E. (1952) The Essential Oils. London: Macmillan).
The Bulgarian branch of the French company Biolandes was established in 1996 as a part of the effort to renew Bulgaria’s rose oil industry. Vesela Terzieva, a branch manager, states, “We have planted a total of 250 acres of roses and are employing a workforce of 1,000 in the peak season for rose-picking.” Biolandes currently exports 250 kilograms (551 lbs) of oil a year, making it one of Bulgaria’s top rose oil exporters (Jerusalem Post, source, 2009).
Bulgaria is the world’s leading exporters of rose oil, producing more than half of the world’s output. Nedko Nedkov, director of the Institute of the Rose in Kazanlak, states that Bulgarian rose oil, which is at the heart of fragrances in brands such as Chanel and Givenchy, “is considered by many to be the best in the
world and costs as much as 5,000 Bulgarian lev ($7,100) per kilogram.” France, the United States, Germany, and Japan are the biggest importers of Bulgarian rose oil (Jerusalem Post, source, 2009). The price of wholesale rose oil is continuing to rise. Bulgaria produces both rose otto and rose absolute from the Damaskrose. Bulgaria also produces a very limited amount of rose oil from
Rosa alba and a small amount of rose co2 extract.
Turkey is the largest producer of rose oil following Bulgaria. Rose cultivation for the production of Turkish rose oil takes place in Isparta, situated in southwest Anatolia. For many years, the distillation process in Turkey occurred in simple boilers called sitil. In 1935, however, the Turkish government built the first large industrial plant for rose oil production. Today, rose oil production in Turkey mostly occurs in industrial plants after the petals are harvested by family businesses and a few larger plan
tations (Turkish Ministry of Economy, source, 2014).
As of 2009, Turkey produces approximately 1300 kilograms of rose otto, 1900 kilograms of rose absolute, and 8050 kilograms of rose concrete, a component in many perfumes and cosmetics worldwide. Isparta produces about 80% of Turkey’s rose oil.
Turkey’s rose oil exports accounted for $11.7 USD million in 2009. In 2012, Turkey exported $12,613,000 worth of rose oil to the United States (International Trade Centre [ITC], source). The main countries who import rose oil from Turkey are France, USA, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Belgium, England and Saudi Arabia (Giray & Kart, source, 2012). Turkish rose otto, made from the Damaskrose is generally less expensive than Bulgarian rose otto.
France is considered the perfume capital of the world, and along with Egypt and India one of the major essential oil producing regions of the world. While France used to produce large quantities of rose essential oil for perfumes, the French city of Grasse in southeastern France has slowed its rose oil production in recent years. Global economics has played its part in France’s decline in production; today 1kg of roses from Grasse costs 10 times as much as the equivalent from Bulgaria, which has helped contribute to rose flower production in Grasse falling from 5,000 metric tonnes (5,500 US tons) a year in the 1940s to less than 30 metric tonnes (33 US tons) in 2012. Still, the region remains culturally and historically important to the perfumery industry, and leading master perfumers such as Chanel and Hermès still maintain their own rose fields around Grasse (Norwegian Magazine, source, 2013).
Throughout all countries that cultivate roses for essential oil, production costs for growing, harvesting, and distilling are expensive. As a result, market prices for rose oil are high and climbing.
According to the Bulgarian Journal of Agricultural Science, recent improvements in technology have helped lower some of the production costs. However, many workers in countries such as Bulgaria and Turkey, where rural families often harvest the rose petals, are not involved in the market. Because these farmers and harvesters are not considered when deciding prices for rose oil, they benefit very little from any profits made through rose oil production. Consequently, most rose growers and harvesters are still not benefiting from these improved technologies (Bulgarian Journal of Agricultural Science, source, 2012).
There are no exact figures for how much the rose industry is worth, since many private distilleries refuse to announce the exact price of the rose oil they are exporting, citing it is a trade secret. Vesela Tervieza, a manager for Biolandes, comments that the biggest problem facing rose oil production in the coming years will be climate-based, due to increased hot and dry weather, rather than financial: “The economic crisis is not affecting us directly. On the contrary, we have now enough labor force…What worries us is the climate change that makes the weather unpredictable.” (Jerusalem Post, source, 2009.)