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Madagascar crop to keep vanilla prices low

G.K. Nair

Indian output likely to be over 200 tonnes this year

Losing flavour
Availability in Madagascar is estimated at 2,000 tonnes.
Global output is estimated at around 3,000 tonnes.
US, Europe turning towards Indian vanilla.

Kochi , Aug. 4

Natural vanilla prices are unlikely to pick up this year as Madagascar is reported to be heading for a crop, estimated at over 1,600 tonnes, while the demand is rising slowly.

Availability in Madagascar, the largest grower in the world, is said to be around 2,000 tonnes, including carryforward stocks.

Global demand, on the other hand, is estimated to be between 1,200 tonnes and 1,500 tonnes.

The total global output is estimated at around 3,000 tonnes. Production in the country is also expected to be over 200 tonnes this year against an estimated 180 tonnes last year, market sources told Business Line.

High grade beans

In Madagascar, green beans are now sold at $1.25-$1.75 a kg, while good beans were fetching $2 a kg, industry sources said. According to them, high quality dried beans are at present traded at $15-$25 a kg.

The only consolation for Indian growers is that now the US and Europe-based industries have started enquiring about Indian vanilla, which could be viewed as an indication that at least 10 per cent of the world demand might come to India, provided the product (Gaurmet grade) is of high quality.

Therefore, the good processing methods have to be adopted by the producers, said an expert in the vanilla cultivation and export trade.

The specification of "Gaurmet" grade beans are of above 15 cm length selected from the A grade beans having over 1.75 per cent vanillin and 25-30 per cent moisture content and in brown colour.

However, he has suggested that India with a huge domestic market need not have to harp on export markets. The Government should come out with a nationwide campaign to promote natural vanillin in place of its synthetic substitute. At present, the use of domestic synthetic vanillin is estimated at over 600 tonnes a year and if a portion of it is substituted that would create a huge market for the natural product, he pointed out.

Strong competition

While vanilla flavour experiences strong and growing demand, within the larger category real vanilla is increasingly being substituted with synthetic vanillin. This substitution was catalysed by the limited availability and extreme price increases in 2002 and 2003, a study said.

Global export market

The world export market for natural vanilla is valued at around $422 million with nearly 50 per cent sourced from Madagascar.

Growing demand

There is a strong global demand now between 16,000 tonnes and 18,000 tonnes a year, and, of which, 2,000 tonnes is of this lignin vanillin. By comparison, total world demand for natural vanilla, at present, is below 2,000 tonnes.

According to a recent market study, natural vanilla experiences strong competition on two levels. "Within the vanilla flavour category, there is competition from synthetic vanilla, or vanillin. Vanillin is the major flavour constituent of vanilla, but it is produced through various bio-technological processes, which continue to be developed. Although natural vanilla contains many more flavour components than just vanillin - several hundreds have been identified - the difference in taste with synthetic vanilla is hard to detect in most applications, especially for the untrained "mouth"."

The US, France and Germany account for about 80 per cent of world natural vanilla imports, the US absorbing 50-60 per cent, and France and Germany between 10 per cent and 15 per cent each. These three countries are also major re-exporters of both vanilla beans and processed vanilla products.

According to synthetic vanillin industry sources, last year the demand for vanillin products based on lignin from spruce trees said to have increased by 28 per cent. This was due to the high vanilla prices, and the "extra round flavour" of lignin vanillin compared to chemical vanillin.

Synthetic vanillin accounts for more than 90 per cent of the US vanilla flavouring market and about 50 per cent of the French market (the lowest national share). One ounce of artificially produced vanillin has roughly the same flavouring power as a gallon of natural vanilla extract.

The growth in demand for vanillin in the mature markets of Europe and the US is stable at two per cent, while in China it is estimated at 10 per a year.

Given the great demand for vanilla in the world market while the natural product is too expensive, synthetics have substituted natural vanilla with about 97 per cent of total vanilla used in flavours and fragrance.

The inaugural conference of the International Tropical Farmers Network (ITFN) held from May 26-28, 2006 at the Takilhsukut Thematic Park in Papantla, Veracruz, Mexico. The participants, including from India, said the ITFN was addressing this crisis by creating a standard of quality for vanilla producers, new ways of marketing their vanilla, the creation of value-added vanilla products and educating both businesses and consumers on the importance of supporting this small but important tropical industry by using pure vanilla.

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