I understand the frustration of vanilla buyers. Vanilla is currently selling at an all-time high, over $500 per kilogram at the farm. At Origin, we're able to offer vanilla at a competitive price, although we aren't exactly comfortable with prices.
There's two reasons why vanilla is currently so expensive.
1. It's incredibly labor-intensive.(It's much easier to grow rice.)
2. There's a global shortage.
Now let's dig deeper.
1. LABOR-INTENSIVE FARMING
First of all, it's important to realize that vanilla does not grow naturally anywhere in the world except for Mexico. There's only one type of bee that can pollinate the vanilla bloom, the Melipona bee, and that type of bee only exists in Mexico.
This means that 99% of the world's vanilla is pollinated by hand. It involves careful pollination with a sterilized toothpick or other sharp and small object. Vanilla blossoms must be pollinated within 24 hours of blooming, or there will be no bean.
Vanilla Orchid flowers are hermaphroditic, which means they contain both male and female parts. Because of a plant tissue in each flower called the Rostellum that covers the stem, the flower cannot self pollinate. The pollen on a vanilla orchid is highly inaccessible to most pollinating insects, so a typical honey bee cannot access vanilla orchid pollen. The Melipona bee had evolved in a way that allowed it to find the vanilla pollen and carry it to other vanilla flowers for fertilization.
When you consider the complexity of pollination, it's clear that every vanilla bean is a literally a jaw-dropping miracle.
After vanilla beans are pollinated, green beans will grow over the period of several months. After the green bean has reached it's maximum size, farmers will pick the beans and begin a process of curing.
Curing, or post-processing, is the process that farmers use to turn their hard green vanilla beans into the soft, aromatic black vanilla beans that we all love.
2. GLOBAL SHORTAGE
In late 2016, a strong cyclone rocked the island of Madagascar, which produces roughly 75% of the world's vanilla.
Many of the world's vanilla farms were destroyed. Large companies were forced to forfeit contracts with vanilla producers, and everyone in the industry suffered, including consumers.
The lack of supply means high prices. High priced crops lead to theft and irresponsible farming practices. Many farmers would rather pick their beans prematurely than to risk being robbed. Quality is suffering in Madagascar.
Fortunately, Origin Vanilla is working to develop vanilla farms in Malaysia and Indonesia, which we believe could be the next frontier of vanilla cultivation.
Prices went from $30 per kilogram to $500 per kilogram in the course of 3 years. We don't accept this volatility, and we believe the answer to the vanilla crisis is to remove the various middlemen that are traditionally involved in the vanilla trade, and to pay farmers premium prices upfront. We pay upfront so they have more working capital and aren't anxious about not being paid or not being able to find a buyer.
Our work challenges conventional trading practices. We aren't here to fit-in, we're here to create change for all who grow, trade, and cook with the world's most luxurious and sought-after spice.
Thanks for reading,