Sustainable vanilla initiatives: Traceable, transparent and responsible supply chains in focus
04 Jan 2023 --- From farm to table, consumers want to know where their food comes from, who made it and what ingredients are included. This heightened consumer focus correlates to the broader push for sustainability from brands and their suppliers, particularly when it comes to vanilla, the “queen of flavors.” Meanwhile, the industry is seeing a shift from natural vanilla and non-vanilla-derived vanillin, driven by demand for consistency and supply reliability.
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to suppliers in the vanilla and vanillin space, who offer insights into sustainability initiatives.
According to ADM, 73% of consumers say they feel more positively about companies that are transparent about where and how products are made, raised or grown. “Consumers are demanding higher standards from companies regarding their environmentally conscious practices,” explains Travis Green, vice president of commercial development for global vanilla.
“However, sustainability product positioning now extends beyond eco-friendly practices to include fair and humane treatment of people and animals involved in every aspect of the production and supply chain,” he notes.
Responsible sourcing is at the core of ADM’s business approach, flags Green. “Considering that the global food system is highly interdependent, we design our sustainability programs to withstand various disruptions in the market using the strength of our partnerships on the ground.”
Collaboration with farmers and throughout the supply chain is a crucial consideration to the further advancement of sustainability efforts within ADM, ensuring continued responsible agricultural practices and sourcing that benefits its customers and consumers alike.
Juan Felipe Rivera, CSR project manager at Prova, also underscores the importance of environmentally responsible practices.
“The European law regarding the import of certain deforestation-free products is a great example of how different industries will have to shift toward a more traceable business model quickly. Besides the compliance needed to continue importing the concerned products, the law also helps to create awareness on customers who will be more and more strict when looking for such commodities, including vanilla,” he states.
Vanilla sourcing projects
Prova supports around 1,140 farmers via its sustainable sourcing programs in 19 different villages in Madagascar.
“It’s been ten years since we started our first sustainable sourcing project in Madagascar. We have learned a lot, and we are proud to see how the project has grown since then,” explains Rivera.
“In 2021, we developed our second sustainable vanilla sourcing program, Care & Act Vanilla, which summarizes all our learnings in Madagascar. This is our biggest achievement so far, but we don’t plan to stop there,” he continues. “There is still a lot to be done, and we seek to increase these numbers to fulfill our CSR ambitions for 2025 and 2023, respectively.”
The presence of intermediaries between exporters and vanilla farmers causes one key challenge, flagged by Prova. “Madagascar lacks infrastructure like bridges and roads to reach many isolated rural villages that produce important quantities of vanilla and whose people usually live in the most precarious conditions of the region,” comments Rivera.
“This encourages the presence of middlemen that collect vanilla in these zones and then sell it to exporters. Many are even missioned by exporters themselves. Our sustainable vanilla sourcing program ensures no middlemen between us, our exporter, and the farmers. We buy directly from farmers via annual contracts, and we trace all the vanilla, we know exactly where it comes from and who produces it. This is the only way to ensure that farmers earn a living income.”
Tracing vanilla back to its origins
Meanwhile, ADM believes in sourcing vanilla from traceable, transparent and responsible supply chains. “Through our joint venture, Savan in Madagascar, we can trace vanilla beans back to the farm of origin,” explains Green.
“This partnership enables us to work directly with local farmers to share knowledge of the best agronomic practices, including maintaining vanilla vines, avoiding over pollination and determining when to best harvest their crop. Partnering directly with farmers’ unlocks a further layer of authenticity and food safety,” he outlines.
“Outstanding cured vanilla beans ultimately create our Fairtrade and organic certified vanilla extract, helping earn trust with conscientious consumers.”
ADM is also a member of the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative (SVI) steering committee, which strives to encourage the expanded adoption of traceability in Madagascar to benefit the industry.
In 2018, ADM’s acquisition of Rodelle, a key player in authentic vanilla ingredients, enabled the company to vertically integrate its vanilla ingredients and flavor capabilities directly from the source of vanilla bean production in Madagascar.
“As a result, our portfolio today includes organic, Fairtrade, non-GMO and alcohol-free beans, powders, pastes, seeds, extracts and flavors,” adds Green.
Additionally, Savan has helped pioneer a large-scale digitally traceable supply chain, as ADM record all purchase details in a central database through an application on smartphones used in the field. While there are other joint ventures in this space, Savan is the only partnership in the region structured to extend its impact beyond growing vanilla and give back to farmers and communities.
Vanillin’s supply security
More than 20 years ago, Solvay developed natural vanillin, obtained by fermentation of a byproduct of the rice industry. It is the same vanillin molecule as the one found in vanilla beans, with a pure vanillin consistent profile, and without the sustainable risks associated with vanilla.
According to Corinne Duffy, global technical marketing manager at Solvay, the Rhovanil Natural range is “fully compliant with the stringent EU Natural flavor regulations, helping the food manufacturers in their clean label and natural ingredients quest at affordable cost-in-use.”
She says that “this natural vanillin is the perfect solution to ensure taste consistency and supply reliability.”
Solvay leverages its knowledge in the vanillin field to help address food sustainability issues and societal challenges strongly pulled by consumers along the food value chain.
The production process of Solvay natural vanillin is thus sustainable on various angles, notably linked to the circular economy principles, explains Duffy.
“Rhovanil Natural is based on a bio-based renewable feedstock (non-GMO rice) and the upcycling of a by-product of the rice industry. The use of biotechnology turns this waste into qualitative natural vanillin. With this solution, food manufacturers can sustainably feed people worldwide,” she reflects.
In 2022, Solvay invested in biotechnology capacity to sustain the growth toward natural ingredients in food as supply security is essential.
At the end of last year, FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Solvay and Prova about the environmental variables that play a crucial role in the production of vanilla, its farmers and the overall agriculture sector. According to suppliers, sustainable vanilla options will increase in the coming years, but the fluctuating market of the beans remains a challenge for food developers.
By Elizabeth Green
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