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Bulgarian lavender producers worried about demand drop

TARNICHANE, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria, one of the world's top lavender oil producers, is eyeing booming prices this season but fears a slump in output could lead the cosmetics industry to drop its product in the long run.

“There is a continuing tendency for rising lavender oil prices. Over the past three to four years the price of lavender oil jumped three times,” distillery owner Filip Lissicharov told the AFP at the start of the lavender picking season Friday.

Slumping production in traditional lavender oil leader France has shot Bulgaria to the position of top producer according to Lissicharov, whose Enio Bonchev Production company is one of Bulgaria's largest lavender oil exporters.

“Bulgaria has imposed itself as the world's No. 1 lavender oil producer over the past few years,” he rejoiced.

“Our biggest market is France itself!”

In Bulgaria's central “Rose valley” at the foot of the Balkan mountains, rows of lavender extend as far as the eye can see.

Mindless of the summer heat, which is essential to the lavender's oil yield, thousands of workers nimbly pluck the lilac flowers, which are then pressed by foot and distilled within 24 hours.

Among the other large buyers of Bulgarian lavender oil besides France are Germany are Switzerland and the U.S., according to Lissicharov.

Still, booming prices are not all good news.

“We are worried by the whole state of lavender production worldwide. There has been a drastic slump in output over the past few years,” said Plamen Stankovski, manager of Bulattars, another big lavender oil distiller.

Soaring prices and declining world output due to unfavorable climate conditions and plant diseases were already forcing cosmetics producers to search for substitutes and might eventually leave lavender oil out of their products, producers feared.

“Too high prices will gradually push our product out of the recipes,” according to Stankovski.

“That is why we do not hope for big price rises but for realistic prices of about 80 to 100 euros (US$114-143) per kilo (2.2 pounds).”

Lavender oil is used in perfumes but also in mass cosmetics industry products such as shampoos, soaps and toothpastes, unlike Bulgaria's other world-famous but more luxurious scent, rose oil, which is also 50 times more expensive.

“With falling production in France, we have no competition right now and the market is hungry for lavender,” Lissicharov said Friday.

“But our clients are also already starting to look for substitutes,” he admitted apprehensively.

Dimitar Kunov, who heads Bulgaria's essential oil testing laboratory, has warned that insufficient supply might push prices this season above the 100-euro threshold.

In 2010, Bulgaria and France produced two-thirds of the world's lavender oil output of 80,000-90,000 kilograms, or about 30,000 kilograms each, distillers said.

But this output was a far cry from six to seven years ago, when Bulgaria alone could ship abroad 90,000 kilograms in one year.

Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and China are also among the world's leading lavender oil producers.

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 Bulgarian lavender producers worried about demand drop 
A man gathers lavender flowers during a harvest near the village of Tarnichane, some 170 km east of Sofia, Bulgaria, Friday, July 8. Bulgaria, one of the world's top lavender oil producers, eyes high demand and booming prices this season but fears a drastic slump in output might force the perfume and cosmetics industry to start pushing the ingredient out of its recipes. (AP)

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