Symrise: Securing a strong community across the vanilla supply chain


03 Apr 2018 --- The demand for natural vanilla is rising continuously and with the price of the world’s most popular spice increasing, the vanilla market can be very complex. In 2007, Symrise took an important step in ensuring secure sourcing and quality across its vanilla supply chain and the company decided on a long-term oriented, intensive and holistic engagement in Madagascar.

Thanks to their approach in Madagascar, Symrise today has a working relationship with around 8,000 vanilla farmers in the Sava region, the main vanilla production area in the country. In total, there are around 80,000 farmers on the island. By this, Symrise has launched a holistic program that on the one hand strengthen the independence of farmers and on the other ensure the quality and quantity of their vanilla purchase.
Click to Enlarge
Yannick Leen, Global Competence Director for vanilla at Symrise

Yannick Leen is the Global Competence Director for vanilla at Symrise. He recently spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the current situation in Madagascar. “The whole situation is between supply and demand. Demand for natural flavors and solutions, in general, is something that has been increasing over the last few years,” he says. “It’s a mega trend that is here to stay and it also has an impact on the vanilla demands on a global level. At the same time, this increased demand has existed in the industry for many years, but now, demand seems to be sustained and the mega trend of natural flavor solutions is one that driving our industry to where it is today.”

According to Leen, the popularity of vanilla is thriving across the board. “The trend for naturalness is everywhere, from beverages to ice cream to dairy and bakery applications. I would say it is the number one global flavor, it’s certainly the number one flavor regarding tonality, and the most appreciated sweet flavor tonality that is there,” he says. 

Symrise is also running trials on savory combinations with vanilla, such as salty and sweet. “It does work well and it’s an interesting area for innovation,” Leen notes, “But most of our projects are in the sweet arena.”

For Symrise, innovating product portfolio and product propositions is a priority. “Our goal is that consumers can continue to enjoy vanilla and discover the full potential of the rich spice. We are working on new concepts and taste profiles that would connect well with, e.g., Millennials. We understand that consumer-driven innovation as the basis of our business,” Leen says. “At the same time, we have created new natural flavor solutions that help to mitigate the current high cost of vanilla. Our tailored solutions allow our customers to optimize the usage of vanilla beans or extracts but still keep on having a very appealing and rich taste profile.  That is part of our holistic proposal and how we help our customers secure supply, it's not only about ensuring that we have access to the beans but is also about making sure that we have the right product portfolio and proposals behind that link into our customer's agenda,” he explains.
Within the vanilla space, there is still a lot more that can be done, according to Leen. “There is a myriad of aromatic substances in a vanilla beans that are characterizing and defining the taste of natural vanilla, which makes vanilla so rich and valuable, so with our technology and insights we are continuously looking for new ways to differentiate by taking out the right substances from the vanilla bean to create a more appealing taste profile for our customers.”

Madagascar: A hub for vanilla
With the current and volatile situation in Madagascar, Leen remains hopeful and as a company, Symrise has put a lot of initiatives in place to secure a sustainable future. “We are hopeful, that Madagascan vanilla has a future, we are committed to building a long-term future in the country and preserving a future for vanilla. We saw the need to strengthen the smallholder farmers and Symrise is working with its partners Unilever, Save The Children and GIZ to make smallholders build their capacity to become more resilient.   The success of these interventions is there and that gives Symrise confidence that Madagascar vanilla has a bright future.” he states.

Click to Enlarge“There has also been an increase of planting vanilla beans in Madagascar and Leen believes it's only a matter of time when these additional volumes will come to the market and reduce the pressure on demand and supply,” he adds. 

For the farmers in Madagascar is there is one crop per year, and when each farmers’ income relies on this vanilla, there is a period of the year where the farmer is getting very little income to support their family. For Symrise, the importance of training and investing in these vanilla farmers is crucial to the business.

“Their income has to be sufficient for the rest of the year,” Leen notes. “So besides training, we support our farmers with interest-free rice credits to ensure they have access to basic needs and without obligation to us as a company. We work closely with our farmers for 365 days per year, and make sure that they have the training and resources to everything they might need. These 8,000 farmers within our network are the backbone of our vanilla supply chain,” he states. 

Ensuring quality and quantity of vanilla sourcing long-term
Today, with its team of 154 permanent employees and the direct network of farmers, Symrise has privileged access to vanilla offerings. When purchasing vanilla on the local markets, the company itself records where each vanilla pod comes from and then checks its quality. This allows Symrise to closely follow production. “This is an important aspect both for quality assurance, and also to ensure that social and economic standards are being met,” explains Leen.

“Over the course of ten years, a community has grown here that brings together stakeholders from the entire value chain. Thanks to this community, we now have access to the best available quality and the quantities required, in particular in the current bottleneck and high-price situation, allowing us to ensure supply for our customers,” summarizes Leen.

“What makes a successful community is a balance between giving and taking. Our long-term perspective and commitment have paid off, as have our fair business practices. Hereupon we continue our commitment,” he finalizes.  
You can listen to the podcast interview with Leen here

By Elizabeth Green

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