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Aroma Naturals Sues Rival Over Ads

O.C. BUSINESS PLUS

Courts: The Irvine maker of scented products seeks $15 million for claims it says are misleading.

June 16, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aroma Naturals Inc., maker of scented candles and body care products, has filed a lawsuit accusing competitor Our Secret Ltd. of waging a misleading marketing campaign.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Santa Ana, highlights the growing controversy over the marketing of products used in "aromatherapy," a quasi-science of smells that purportedly enhance health, mood and brain function. Irvine-based Aroma contends that it makes its products with "pure essential oils" and extracts. While Our Secret claims to sell candles with similar ingredients for a lower price, the lawsuit says most of the Albuquerque, N.M., company's candles are actually made of synthetic fragrances and additives.

Aroma is asking the court to halt the allegedly misleading advertising and seeks damages of at least $15 million.

Our Secret could not be reached for comment.

The claims of unfair competition point up the rift between two camps that manufacture aromatherapy products, such as candles, oils and lotions.

Initially, these products were made by purists, who insist that great care must be taken in preparing the scented ingredients. But as more consumers began snapping up such goods, cosmetic giants entered the fray, creating tough competition for the smaller players that had staked out the turf.

Traditionalists say the newcomers pretend to sell true aromatherapeutic products at a bargain when they are really selling candles and lotions made with cheap synthetics. The purists formed an industry group and issued a seal to slap on all-natural products.

But fragrance industry skeptics say it doesn't matter whether a smell is born in a plant or a test tube. They describe the product-certification program as a move by small manufacturers that sell overpriced goods to regain the edge that the cosmetics giants now hold.

In the lawsuit, Aroma said its aromatherapy candles are made from "pure essential oils, plants, flowers, citrus fruits and trees" and contain no synthetic fragrances. The company said it selected and tested essential oils from around the world for purity and fragrance before mixing them in-house.

Aroma says Our Secret's products are inferior, despite the Albuquerque company's boasts in its brochures that the "essential oils used in our candles are as precious as rare gems."

When the public discovers that Our Secret's products are not comparable to Aroma Natural's lineup, consumers will likely stop buying all aromatherapy products, the lawsuit says.

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