Do not panic just yet, but the temperature is rising, and so is the price of ice-cream due to a shortage of vanilla.
Due to a poor harvest in 2015, the price of Madagascan vanilla, the dominant producer of vanilla, has surged by nearly 150 percent in the last year according to the Guardian.
Vanilla is already the second most expensive spice in the world, only beaten by saffron, but at the rate prices are rising it could soon take over the price of the small orange strands. The price of vanilla is so high due to its long and labor-intensive cultivation.
Vanilla is part of the orchid family and is hand pollinated on farms. Each flower opens only once briefly per season and must be pollinated on that day or no vanilla pod will be produced that year. If produced, the curing process for the vanilla bean is also a lengthy one that involves drying the beans by sunlight during the day then allowing them to sweat in a box at night. This drying and sweating process takes three to six months.
Charlie Thuillier, the founder and managing director of the ice-cream brand Oppo, has already felt the effects of the shortage of vanilla. “The price [of vanilla] has doubled in the last month. We were paying €35 a litre in February but now it’s €76,” he said.
The poor results of last year’s vanilla harvest in Madagascar are being felt worldwide. Silver Spoon distributes Nielsen-Massey vanilla across the UK and said: “The market price of vanilla has risen over the past 12 months, and sharply over the last 12 weeks. This has been driven largely by a poor quality harvest in Madagascar. Our hope is that vanilla prices will return to a more stable level in the future.”
Somewhat like coffee beans, vanilla pods have their own distinct flavor depending on where they are grown. Vanilla beans are also grown in Mexico, Indonesia, and Tahiti, but Madagascan vanilla is preferred by most manufactures due to the creamy sweet flavor that is perfect for ice-cream.
“You can get vanilla extract all over the world, but we chose Madagascar because it had the greatest depth of flavour,” says Thuillier. “Managing the price increase is a bit of a challenge for us but we haven’t changed supplier. If you are doing battle with giants like Unilever you need a product that’s unbelievable. We will sell more.”
Not only is the shortage of vanilla going to affect the price of ice-cream but also perfumes, cakes, medications, and soft drinks that all use vanilla.
The rising price of vanilla is putting stress on farmers causing them to pick the vanilla beans early resulting in an inferior product. According to a data analyst for Mintec, “There are reports that vanilla farmers in Madagascar harvested their 2015 crop prematurely, in fear of losing their production to thieves. This, coupled with inadequate drying in order to increase profits from their crop has led to lower quality vanilla.”
Despite the shortage of vanilla, all hope for an ice-cream full summer is not lost. According to Grubstreet Madagascar’s 2016 crop is off to a great start, “but that won’t help prices until later this year, and there’s an entire summer in between, so you may have to look forward to lots of Italian ices as the weather warms up.”
Craig Nielsen, the chief executive officer of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla hopes the vanilla shortage will end soon and with it the high price. “The flowering for [the 2016 crop] was good, and prices may start to drop in the fourth quarter.”
The shortage in vanilla and therefore vanilla ice-cream has come not long after the world went into a panic due to the announcement of a global chocolate shortage, or more accurately global cacao shortage, that is set to be felt in a few short years. Our advice is to stock up on both while you can.
[Photo by Joe Giddens/PA]