Virginia Dare demoed at its booth its range of extracts and flavors in teas, protein shakes, and functional fruit snacks, said Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager at Virginia Dare. Virginia Dare showcased its vanilla extract in a vanilla ice cream and offered peach cobbler-flavored black tea, jasmine mojito-flavored sparkling zero-proof cocktail, and strawberry-flavored functional fruit snacks, among other samples.
"Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors. So, what we like to do with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, the most popular flavors, is upscale them a little bit, something that we call elevated classics. So, bringing vanilla as the main flavor and bringing something like a spice flavor -- let’s say cardamom ... [This allows us] to upscale the vanilla because [consumers are] comfortable with vanilla, but they might also want to try something a little more unique.”
Supporting the farmer, preparing for sourcing challenges
While the demand for vanilla remains high, the supply chain has historically faced a host of sourcing challenges, especially in Madagascar where “60% to 80% of all production” takes place, Henry Todd, Virginia Dare’s VP of International, told FoodNavigator-USA.
To secure its supply chain, the company supports vanilla farmers through financial inclusion initiatives, and works on-the-ground in the country to provide transparency into the vanilla supply chain, he explained.
“We work directly with 1,300 vanilla growers with no intermediaries between Virginia Dare and Madagascar. We employ roughly 200 people and growers themselves. That is so important because it gives [us] a clear understanding of how they’re living, their challenge, and how they can help us, etc. So, I think that brings transparency to the value chain.”
Additionally, by working with these farmers, Virginia Dare has firsthand insight into the vanilla harvest and whether weather events might impact a year’s crop. “The vanilla-growing region is in the eastern part of the country; that’s the coast to which cyclone arrive and make landfall,” he added.
To secure its supply chain, Virginia Dare works to ensure “geographic dispersion” and is “also working with a number of other vanilla-producing countries” like Uganda, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, with each country having a slightly different flavor and sensory profile than Madagascar vanilla, Todd said.
“The New Guinea flavor profile is a more cherry, almond, benzaldehyde, and even floral profile. Coming out of Indonesia is much smokier, spicy, a little bit earthy, haylike. And then, of course, ... [in] Madagascar and Uganda, we get sweet, fruity, caramel, fig type notes, a very different profile. So, they all have very specific flavors.”