During the last decade, vanilla prices have soared from about $20 a kilo to record prices of up to $300 during last year's vanilla scarcity. A devastating cyclone in 2000 and the 2002 political crisis in Madagascar, the world's biggest grower, heavily influenced this boom in vanilla prices.
But this year prices are expected to ease up as international markets anticipate a bumper vanilla bean harvest in Madagascar, predicting a trebling of production from 500 metric tons in 2003 to around 1500 MT this year.
Synergy Flavours, a division of Irish food group Carbery, confirmed that a significant issue in developing their latest flavour product has been sourcing the organic vanilla beans. But one of its "objectives is to be able to get vanilla beans from known farmers, so that the provenance of the extract becomes even deeper," said Crispin Gell of Synergy.
The firm has now completed the R&D but 'perfecting the extraction of this delicate flavour took several more months', it said. The organic vanilla product has now been approved by the UK organic industry body, the Soil Association and joins the portfolio of organic flavours that Synergy offers, including organic lemon and peppermint extracts.
Vanilla is the world's favourite ice cream flavour choice. According to ITC/UN statistics, the total global demand for vanilla is about 2000 to 3000 metric tonnes a year, with the world market for vanilla beans highly concentrated in a few developed countries.
The US, France and Germany account for about 80 per cent of world imports, the US absorbing 50 to 60 per cent, and France and Germany between 10 to 15 per cent each. These three countries are also major re-exporters of both vanilla beans and processed vanilla products.
Rocketing vanilla prices in the recent international market forced food manufacturers to look for alternatives, reflected in an increase in global demand for synthetic vanilla that at vanilla's peak, cost about one-hundredth of its price.
According to Raman Gujral from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, synthetic vanillin accounts for more than 90 per cent of the US vanilla flavouring market and about 50 per cent of the French market (the lowest national share). One ounce of artificially produced vanillin has roughly the same flavouring power as a gallon of natural vanilla extract.