During the last decade, vanilla prices have soared from about $20 a kilo to record prices of up to $300 during 2003's vanilla scarcity. 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, heavily influenced this boom in vanilla prices.
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 MT in 2004. But the food industry remains anxious that supplies can be sustained within reasonable price brackets.
However, Synergys recent authorisation to import whole organic vanilla pods directly from Madagascar should also help guarantee supplies and achieve a degree of price stability.
The permit, given by the British government and supported by the Soil Association, will allow the international flavours specialist to guarantee field gate traceability to customers and offer them increased continuity of supply and quality.
Vanilla is one of Synergys major product lines and the company has provided Soil Association-approved organic vanilla extracts for over five years, in additional to suitable for organic vanilla flavours. UK organic food sales topped 1.2 billion in 2005 and the global market has been estimated at 17.5 billion.
Synergys first consignment of organic vanilla pods was received last month. The company anticipates importing around 1.5 tonnes from Madagascar per year.
"Synergy is delighted to have obtained this crucial import authorisation, which benefits our customers, consumers and the growers themselves," said Andrew OMahony, Synergy marketing manager.
"Organic foods are a large and growing market for our flavours and were responding to customer needs by offering much improved traceability and provenance for the worlds favourite sweet flavouring."
The EU regulation recognises that it is not yet possible to make products entirely from organic ingredients. As a result the manufacturer can use up to 5 per cent of certain non-organic food ingredients and still label the product as organic.
Food manufacturers continue to enjoy strong demand for their organic food products. Annual retail sales of organic foodstuffs have soared tenfold to top 1.51 billion in UK alone in the past decade.
Guaranteeing supplies of vanilla, on the other hand, is less certain. The commodity, which is a vital ingredient in a number of products including creams, cakes and ice cream, has been in Europe since the time of the Spanish conquistadors. But supplies have always been precarious.