Ironically, considering that loss of smell is a common COVID-19 symptom, home scent products like candles, diffusers, incense, and air fresheners have been flying off shelves during the pandemic. 

It makes sense. There’s little incentive to wear perfume or cologne when you only see colleagues over Zoom or stand six feet away from friends. But the ritual of diffusing your apartment or lighting a candle has never been more appealing now that we spend our days indoors. While fragrance sales dipped 17% in the first nine months of 2020, home scent sales shot up by 13%. Sales of bargain home scent gift pairings, like a candle and lotion, climbed over 20%. In addition, Google Trends shows that searches for “room spray” and “candles” have both been climbing since March. An analyst at Kline marketing research group wrote in August that home scent products transformed from a “desirable purchase” to “quarantine essential.”

Zooming out, the fragrance industry at large has fared relatively well during the pandemic, both in the home and on the body. Most other sectors of beauty have suffered thanks to store closures, wallet-tightening and diminished need for lipstick and eyeshadow. But while make-up sales were down 31% in the third quarter, fragrance managed to chart 1% growth. Fragrance was Ulta’s top-selling category for sales in the third quarter, charting double-digit growth. 

“Fragrances were the best part of the beauty business,” a retail CEO who says fragrance was among his company’s holiday cash-cows this year, told WWD. “People are looking for something that makes them happy. A fragrance can remind you of a vacation, or somebody you love. It’s an easy way to treat yourself.” 

Andrew Meslow, CEO of L Brands, which has become one of the pandemic’s biggest success stories doubling its share price since January, says Bath and Body Works has seen a home and body scent bump. Two thirds of the company’s dollar growth in its “record” third quarter was generated by home fragrance and body products. Meslow argues that, in tough economic items, sprays and candles are “affordable luxuries” that let people “make the home even more personalized and a place that feels pleasant to be in more frequently.”

The fight for your nostrils

The home scent industry’s growth streak predates the pandemic. Luxury retail website Net-a-Porter saw 180% spike in candle sales in 2018, a trend that The Guardian dubbed the “smellness craze” (smell meets wellness). They chalk it up to a “a small-scale form of self-care in a destabilised world.” It’s easy to see how the pandemic has pushed us further into this endless quest for feel-good, escapist experiences. 

Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle are two of the biggest and most ubiquitous candle and home fragrance sellers. The former is worth over $5 billion and ranks above Sephora in beauty market share. Meanwhile, Yankee Candle was most recently valued at $1.75 billion in 2013, when it was purchased by the Jarden Corporation (now under Newell Brands) and sells nearly 200 million candles per year. P&G’s Febreeze and SC Johnson’s Glade also rank in the top five biggest home scent companies, according to Vox

These companies lead rivals in social media followings by hundreds of thousands. However, according to our data, boutique and elite home scent companies are catching up. 



Instagram followers

Facebook followers

Bath and Body Works






Yankee Candle



P.F. Candle Co.









Boy Smells






Cire Trudon



Nest Candles



Otherland Co.



D.S. & Durga



Harlem Candle Company



Pretty Honest 






Chesapeake Bay Candle



Data gathered 12/28/20

The rise of the luxury candle

The Guardian argues that “anyone fluent in smellness knows it all started with Diptyque.” The French luxury candle brand burned by celebrities from Victoria Beckham to Beyoncé, has become a must-have accessory, in spite or perhaps because of its price tag — the most popular candle, a “burning log”-scented “Feu de Bois” costs $98. But Diptyque is puny compared to a company like Yankee Candles, at least as far as sales. As of 2015, the brand was bringing in around $40 million annually, while Yankee has made over $1 billion every year since. Still, Diptyque’s Instagram following has outpaced nearly every other candle brand. 

During the pandemic, the company’s home scent and candle sales have reportedly tripled. “From that first week that Americans were working from home, we saw a massive spike,” Eduardo Valdez, Diptyque’s director of marketing and communications, told WWD in April. Diptyque helped popularize the entire idea of a $98 candle, which benefitted pricey peers like Cire Trudon, known for being the oldest active candlemaker. The company is tight-lipped about numbers but said it’s seen customers “stock up” on candles since the start of the pandemic. 

In mid-rage are brands like Nest, a decade-old New York brand popular for diffusers and sprays as well as candles. Nest saw sales of its popular $68 triple-wick candle triple in April. It also boosted the percent of sales coming from home fragrance versus perfume, from 75% up to 90%. Meanwhile, D.S. & Durga, a Brooklyn brand turned department store fragrance staple, whose wax pillars go for around $65, saw candles grow to 40% of their business. It hasn't made as big an imprint online as some, but its e-commerce home fragrance sales tripled while wholesale accounts with retailers like Nordstrom and Saks doubled this spring. 

The DTC golden child of the candle craze is Boy Smells, a cheekily-branded, genderless company founded in 2016. The company has only 10 employees, but recently surpassed 100,000 followers on Instagram as their DTC sales soared 1,500% by March 17. Last year, only 25% of Boy Smells sales were DTC. But the pandemic had customers going directly to the source for their beloved “Purple Kush” candle. Boy Smells candles go for around $40, similar to P.F. Candle, whose minimalist, hand-stamped jars are stocked at Madewell, West Elm, Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods. With a following of nearly 150,000 on Instagram, the brand has been doing so well during the pandemic, they’re actually currently expanding its brick-and-mortar retail plan, which is based in California. 

Will the scent craze linger?

People aren’t just buying candles to make themselves feel something. A New York Times deep-dive on the incense industry highlighted Baboshop, a Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand, that saw a 143% increase in sales between April and September. Their third most popular item? A $45 incense kit. Beauty and wellness brand Uma didn’t typically sell much incense, but saw sales for home scent products spike 1300% between June and December. 

The home scent field is crowded and only getting more crowded. Millennial-targeted home scent brands  Otherland and Homesick have both built serious online followings since launching in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Other newcomers hoping to cash in on the pandemic trend include Sephora, which introduced a line of candles under its private-label line, Sephora Collection, and Elle West, a new brand based in Los Angeles, which launched online in June. 

Nine months later, shoppers are showing no signs of candle fatigue, thanks to holiday sales and dropping temperatures. However, it remains to be seen if the home scent craze will still burn bright — and which players will keep the momentum up — once we can smell real flowers again. 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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