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Vanilla vulnerabilities? Ugandan exporters urge supply diversification amid Madagascan monopoly

2024-05-31 Food Ingredients First

Tag: supply chain


The Association of Vanilla Exporters of Uganda (Vanex) is imploring food and beverage brands to source vanilla from multiple countries of origin to avoid potential supply chain disruptions. The association, which promotes Ugandan vanilla as a world-class alternative to Madagascan vanilla, warns the vanilla supply chain must diversify to navigate government interference and unexpected weather events.

Madagascar is known to produce around 80% of the world’s total vanilla inventory. Although vanilla is not native to Madagascar, the vanilla produced in the country’s Sava region is considered the world’s gold standard.

Vanex suggests that while diversifying the vanilla supply chain is not currently a priority for brands, they should take action now to avoid the risks associated with sourcing from a single origin source.

“Many brands may not realize that vanilla vendors are continuously addressing supply chain challenges behind the scenes, including heavy-handed government interventions in vanilla pricing, catastrophic climate events and broader perils facing global commerce,” Prossy Tumushabe, the association’s executive director, tells Food Ingredients First.

“Since vanilla traders are good at their jobs, brands may not have faced a worst-case scenario yet, but if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that a seemingly safe supply chain can turn upside down unpredictably in ways that can overwhelm even the most adept traders.”

“Sourcing vanilla from a single origin is a big risk — and unnecessary — as brands can easily diversify with Ugandan beans and extract.”

Ugandan vanilla
According to Vanex, Uganda is positioned to offer high-quality vanilla equal to Madagascar-sourced vanilla at the volume and specifications required by customers of all sizes.

“Uganda exported approximately 250 MT of vanilla annually over the past couple of years and has a cadre of farmers and processors in place who are capable of increasing production of high-quality vanilla as the global market demands it,” says Tumushabe.

“In the past, Uganda has demonstrated its ability to export as much as 500 MT annually.”

However, Vanex stresses that Uganda is not competing to supply all the world’s vanilla demand but to help diversify the supply chain.

“We believe a healthy global vanilla market has more than one significant supplier, just as a healthy sourcing strategy for brands is a diversified one. The Ugandan vanilla industry believes it can provide the market and individual brands with a dependable, high-quality diversification option,” explains Tumushabe.

Ugandan vanilla is said to have a unique flavor profile while the country boasts an ideal growing climate and what Vanex describes as a “hands-off government” supporting open trade.

Moreover, the association claims the country is the only place on Earth that experiences two vanilla crops per year, offering a regular and dependable supply. The country’s landlocked geography can also shield crops from destructive weather events, which could be advantageous as climate change-related conditions could otherwise pose a threat to yields.

Localized solutions
Another solution to vanilla’s supply chain vulnerabilities is to establish localized production through new technologies. However, Tumushabe remains unconvinced by the scalability of such projects.

“Periodically, efforts pop up to de-risk the global vanilla supply chain through technology or by moving production to regions closer to end-users. These efforts have yet to prove themselves viable at a small scale, and much less so at 2000–3000 MT of annual production, which is what is required to meet global demand,” she tells us.

“Unfortunately, science can’t genetically modify to mitigate the impact of a cyclone — perhaps the biggest catastrophic weather event that faces the vanilla market — not to mention the likely regulatory issues and backlash from vanilla consumers who prize natural vanilla.”

For Tumushabe, the most effective risk mitigation strategy is to diversify vanilla’s sourcing origins. Craig Nielsen, VP of sustainability for Nielsen Massey Vanillas, a US-based flavor house, agrees:

“Diversifying the country of origin for vanilla isn’t top of mind for most brands because they haven’t experienced a disruption yet, but expanding to multiple sources is a great way to future-proof supply.”

“Uganda isn’t as well-known in the vanilla industry yet, but it’s emerging as a world-class source.”


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