Why is One of World’s Most Popular Flavours Becoming Scarce?
Vanilla is one of the world’s most popular flavours. It’s an important component in many different products ranging from ice cream, dairy products and baked goods to perfume, body butters and creams.
But, it is getting harder to find and more expensive. In fact, vanilla prices have soared at such an alarming rate recently that it’s currently worth more by weight than silver!
We previously touched upon the vanilla shortage in a blog article back in December 2016 ‘Facing Challenges in the Chocolate and Confectionery Industry’. However, since then the problem has got much worse.
So, what exactly is causing the price hike? And what can manufacturers do who rely heavily on the popular ingredient?
Factors Involved in the Increase in Vanilla Price
The increase in the price of vanilla is caused by a number of factors. These include a rise in global demand for the popular spice, fuelled by large food brands who have switched to natural flavours in their products in response to consumer preference.
In 2015, one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, Nestlé, announced that they were only going to use natural ingredients in their products over the next five years. Following this announcement, other food companies, such as Hershey’s announced similar plans.
Therefore, demand has surged for vanilla, with prices following the same pattern – in part because vanilla vines are extremely difficult to grow and take two to four years to mature. That’s why there are not enough natural supplies.
This has put huge pressure on production in Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, where the majority of the world’s natural vanilla (between 80-85%) is grown.
Vanilla – A Difficult Crop
As briefly touched upon, the shortage has been further worsened due to vanilla being notoriously difficult to grow. As well as taking years to mature, the flowers only blossom for one day of the year, meaning pollination has to be done manually to maximise the crop.
Following this, the beans must be hand-picked at full ripeness to optimise their vanillin content. Typically harvests lasts from May in Northern Madagascar to August in the middle of the island, following the monsoon season and seasonal occurrences such as the cyclones. The curing process then takes place, which takes many weeks before the beans have turned a deep, dark brown.
The next stage is the conditioning phase where the vanilla pods are placed in storage, which is essential to let their flavours develop and to allow them to produce their aromatic spice. It’s estimated that 600 hand-pollinated blossoms yield roughly 6 kilos of green beans. This equates to one kilo of dried beans.
Madagascar – The Scenario
It doesn’t help that the largest producer of vanilla beans has suffered a succession of extreme weather events, along with political unrest and rioting. This has seen vanilla production decrease and has sent prices through the roof.
Previously Madagascar exported 12,000 tonnes per year and supplied between 80-85% of the world’s natural vanilla. Other producers include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Uganda and India.
However, around a year ago extreme weather conditions wiped out a large proportion of the harvest, worsening the shortage even further. As a result, this has seen the price of the vanilla bean surge to roughly U.S. $ 600 per kg (from a normal price of U.S. $ 100-150/ kg).
To make matters worse, due to the surge in price this has fuelled violence linked to organised crime groups. Specifically, these groups are renowned for targeting farmers.
What Can Manufacturers Do?
Due to the price hike, this has forced manufacturers to turn to alternatives as they simply cannot afford vanilla at the current prices. The situation has gotten so bad that some producers have even taken vanilla off the menu.
Manufacturers have a real dilemma, and many have been forced to use imitation vanilla. Currently, this accounts for around 95% of vanilla flavourings in food.
Imitation vanilla is made from the same synthetic compound Vanillin, which is found naturally in the vanilla bean. However, it differs from traditional vanilla as it is mainly derived from petroleum and wood chippings. At the same time, it costs a fraction of the price, although it has been criticised for lacking the complexity of the real thing.
Unfortunately for critics, it looks like synthetic vanilla is here to stay, and the traditional vanilla may end up becoming a rare, exclusive delicacy.
How Can Pigging Help Manufacturers
If you use vanilla and any other ingredients in your production process then HPS can help you!
With vanilla and other raw materials becoming more expensive and production declining, that’s why recovering as much product as possible during the manufacturing process becomes ever more valuable.
HPS is an ISO 9001 pipeline product recovery company that help many companies that process liquids to increase their yields, reduce waste, improve efficiency and speed up changeovers. This is through liquid transfer and product recovery (pigging) technology.
High Recovery Rates of HPS Pigging Systems
Pigging systems offer a wide range of benefits for companies that process food, beverages, confectionery, personal care, cosmetics, pet food, home care plus many more.
Pigging (or ‘product recovery’) technology refers to the process of recovering product that would otherwise go to waste. HPS pigging systems recover up to 99.5% of product from the pipelines, which is perfectly good and useable and maintains its product quality.
As well as recovering huge amounts of wasted product, pigging is also used by manufacturers to clean the inside of pipes and tubing, to minimise the risks of cross-contamination.
So, if your process liquids, download one of our free guides to pigging today in the resources section of our website.
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HPS Product Recovery Solutions is a global leader in hygienic (sanitary) pigging systems, product recovery, liquid transfer and pipeline pigging products and services.