Saturday, December 23, 2017

Vanilla is so valuable now that it needs to be guarded

See Your Passion for Fancy Vanilla Ice Cream Is Creating World-Wide Havoc: With the price skyrocketing, farmers in Madagascar, the industry’s epicenter, are sleeping in their fields, hiring guards; ‘there are many vanilla thieves here’ by Alexandra Wexler of The WSJ.
"Driven in part by Americans’ increasing taste for natural products, the price of vanilla has grown sixfold over the past three years."

"Vanilla bandits are plundering pods, which at about $600 a kilogram are now more valuable than their weight in silver and come second only to saffron in the spice price rankings."

"Farmers . . . have hired guards or spend their nights sleeping in their fields. On at least four occasions this year, farmers have killed thieves caught stealing vanilla from farms"

"Some communities, including Ambodiampana, whose neat wooden-slat houses materialize out of the thick, green jungle on either side of a wide tar road, have created village defense forces, which are staffed by the strongest men. They are trained by the local gendarmes to guard access to the area and bring thieves in to the authorities.

The mayhem in the Malagasy jungle, where about 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown, is spurred by some of the world’s largest packaged-foods companies, which are increasingly using natural—rather than artificial—vanilla flavor in chocolates, ice creams and baked goods. Natural vanilla flavor is now used in products including Nestlé SA’s Crunch bars, McDonald’s Corp.’s vanilla soft serve and Hershey Co.’s Hershey’s Kisses.

In 2017, the market for U.S. vanilla imports jumped to $402.4 million through October, from $232.8 million during the same period in 2016, after more than doubling in 2016 from the previous year, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

This year, the increase in price for natural vanilla was compounded by a March cyclone that hit the northeastern vanilla-producing region of Madagascar, which fueled buyers’ worries about shortages."

"Vanilla plants are the only fruit-bearing orchid and it takes them about three years to start producing beans—one reason why supply is lagging demand."

"Vanilla farmers receive a fraction of the jump in prices for their produce, with much of the profits staying with middlemen, who buy the pods and then sell to exporters. Farmers in Ambodiampana said they get about $200 a kilogram for their beans, about one-third the market price. In the hope of shielding them from thieves, farmers have been picking their beans before they’re ripe, which drastically reduces the amount and quality of the vanilla that they yield."

"For now, smaller retailers like artisanal bakeries and gourmet ice-cream makers are feeling the pinch more acutely than their mass-market peers—they require higher-quality vanilla and the beans make up a much higher percentage of their costs."

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