Bean shortage, consumer preferences drive hunt for vanilla alternatives


In Canada, a global vanilla bean shortage coupled with consumer demand for natural flavorings is causing prices for the baking staple vanilla to skyrocket—and has bakers and suppliers alike scrambling for alternatives.

Vanilla crops in Madagascar—which typically accounts for 80% of global vanilla bean production—were reduced by a third in the wake of 2017’s Cyclone Enawo.  At the same time, food majors such as Nestlé, Unilever and General Foods are responding to consumer demand for natural flavorings and ditching artificial vanilla for natural vanilla in their products.  This one-two punch to supply has caused prices to increase sharply. A kilo of vanilla is now $700, up from $40 in 2011, David van der Walde, director of Aust & Hachmann Canada, tells The Globe and Mail. “People think vanilla is so plain, so simple,” says van der Walde, “but it’s probably the most complicated flavor out there.”

Companies are thinking outside the box to solve the problem. Norway’s Borregaard, for example, produces natural vanillin from lignin extracted from the region’s spruce trees.

“[Food] companies aren’t wanting to be reliant on vanilla beans right now,” says Amie Byholt, Director of Sales in the Americas for Borregaard. “The availability is what’s most concerning – people have a globally branded product, and if they can’t get what they need to create that food product, that’s a scary situation. It’s not only about price, but protecting supply when you have an ingredient that you absolutely need and one day you can’t get.”