None of the perfumers at the Thymes fragrance company in Minneapolis set out to capture Christmas in a bottle.
But in the 13 years since its Frasier Fir candle was introduced, sales of the woodsy cedar and pine scent have shot up by double digits nearly every year.
More than 50 iterations of the fragrance are now sold — in candles, diffusers, hand soaps and lotions, home mists, dishwashing liquids and all-purpose cleaner sprays. In a very competitive arena, Frasier Fir stands out as a timeless, bestselling scent in the U.S.
"Not in a million years did we think it would be as successful as it has been," said Cindy Andersen, senior vice president of operations at Curio, the company created when Thymes merged with DPM Fragrance in 2016. "We were looking for the quintessential scent of a Christmas tree, and now it's become many people's go-to Christmas fragrance. I have many Jewish friends who didn't grow up with a Christmas tree, but they say the clean, fresh smell is like going to the mountains."
Curio Chief Executive Anne Sempowski Ward said Frasier Fir has become part of many families' tradition. "After Thanksgiving, people start thinking about their Christmas trees and wreaths and they go out and buy it," she said. "A customer gave us the best description, 'It smells like Christmas.' "
The scent is a blend of Siberian fir, cedar and sandalwoods. "It breaks the rules of who buys it. A lot of men like it," said Carly Winslow, vice president at Ampersand in the Galleria in Edina. Ampersand has carried Frasier Fir since it was introduced and it's a perennial best seller at the store.
"We carry other [pine] lines in the store but nothing sells like Frasier Fir. We can't keep the diffusers in stock," Winslow said.
Liz Mugford, a buyer at the General Store in Minnetonka, said Frasier Fir is easily the bestselling candle her store has ever carried.
What separates Frasier Fir from other pine or holiday scents, Mugford said, is not just the scent but also sophisticated packaging and presentation.
The line now includes five collections ranging from traditional with pine needle graphics, white porcelain with gold trim, metallic glass and redwood accents, and sleek, contemporary gray shapes. Nearly all are designed to be displayed year round instead of just during the holidays.
"It's the classic holiday scent, but we carry it year round," said Peggy Merrill, buyer at the Bibelot Shops, which has four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "It creates memories of the outdoors and the pines."
Scott Evenson, president of Acadian Candle in Bloomington with 22 years in the candle business, said that its success invites others to copy it. "There are imitators, but no one has knocked Frasier Fir off the top."
Sempowski Ward, a former Procter & Gamble executive, is well aware of the abundance of evergreen fragrance. "There's Pine-Sol for gosh sakes," she said with a laugh.
She thinks she knows why Frasier Fir resonates with people.
"It's a fragrance that conjures up memories whether you're 2, 22 or 72," she said. "It brings back moments, places and spaces."
Twin Cities retailers who carry the bestselling fragrance say the fact that it was created and is manufactured locally continues to be a selling point. But there's another attribute that Danielle Miles of Bloomington discovered. "It makes up for having a plastic Christmas tree," she said. "I've been buying it for five years. It's fresh and outdoorsy, not perfume-y," she said as she selected several Frasier Fir items at Thymes' annual warehouse sale last month.
Sempowski Ward said retailers and customers such as Miles are the line's best advertising. "We don't do any TV or print ads," she said. "We have a very loyal core group of customers that market for us."
One of the most frequent questions about Frasier Fir that Sempowski Ward gets is about the spelling. The tree variety, a popular one at Christmas, is spelled "Fraser."
The founders of the company, Leslie Ross Lentz and Stephanie Shopa, "were creative and wanted to put a twist on it," Sempowski Ward said. "They wanted it to be broader than a Fraser fir tree."