Danish ingredients firm Danisco is to launch a full line of fair trade certified vanilla products in the US market, the company announced this week.
The move comes just a few months after flavor firm David Michael launched a fair trade pure vanilla in conjunction with TransFair USA.
TransFair USA, which claims to be the only independent, third-party certifier of fair trade products in the US, is also a partner in Danisco's new move, and commented that "supporting sustainable small-scale vanilla farming, while maintaining Danisco's high-quality standards, is a true victory for fair trade."
Danisco said that is able to offer fair trade conventional and organic vanilla while still providing a "competitive price" to its customers.
"Companies need a reliable source of fair trade organic vanilla that can supply the right quality and quantity for expanding product lines and increased sales," it said.
Fair trade ensures that farmers around the world use sustainable farming methods and are paid a fair price for their crops. When market prices fall below the cost of production, farmers are still guaranteed the fair trade price.
And with a growing consumer interest in social responsibility, ingredients firms and food companies are also taking steps forward in supporting sustainable agriculture.
Indeed, a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that sustainable development will steadily advance over the next 10 years. And the challenge of creating strategies that meet immediate needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations is already here, with consumers increasingly conscious about which companies have been quickest to adapt their practices.
What's more, the global food industry finds itself at the cutting edge. Exploitative sourcing is now a mainstream issue, while the dramatic growth of fair trade is pulling food consumption out of the cost-is-all bracket, with consumers prepared to pay more for guarantees of fair labor practices and sustainable sourcing.
Danicso, which claims to be the global leader in sustainable and organic vanilla, has worked directly with the growers and processors in several vanilla growing regions in the world on sustainable vanilla production over the past five years.
The company extracts vanilla mainly in the United States, with additional facilities in the United Kingdom and France.
"Danisco is a technology driven company, committed to sustainability and fair trade. By directly transferring our knowledge to the farmers and processors in developing countries, we improve the value and consistency of their production in the world market. This direct and personal involvement allows us to provide the highest quality and flexibility to our customers," said Dr Krishna Bala, technical director, Vanilla at Danisco.
The company ranks number two on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the food industry.
When it comes to vanilla, the ingredient is crucial to a wide variety of food and beverage applications, including baked goods, sodas, candies, syrups, ice cream and soy milk.
But the global market for vanilla has been in tumult in recent years. A devastating cyclone in 2000 and the 2002 political crisis in Madagascar, the world's biggest grower supplying 50 per cent of the world market, resulted in vanilla prices soaring from about $20 a kilo to record prices of up to $300 during 2003's vanilla scarcity.
As a result, many companies switched to synthetic vanilla flavoring, just as new vanilla farmers in Africa and Latin America emerged eager to capitalize on an inflated market.Last year, prices fell on the back of a bumper vanilla bean harvest in Madagascar, that trebled production from 500 metric tons in 2003 to around 1500 metric tons in 2004.
According to TransFair USA, while the vanilla industry is still recovering from devastating price fluctuations, many farmers are struggling to sell their crops, some even uprooting or abandoning their vanilla plants. This option is devastating for farmers who have invested considerable time establishing their crops - vanilla is perhaps the world's most labor-intensive crop with the lowest yield, taking an average of five years between first planting the vine and producing aged extract.