The volatile vanilla market has seen food manufacturers turning to synthetic substitutes as prices per kilo have soared from double to treble figures in recent years.
The market for vanilla, one of the world's most popular flavours, is today served by laboratory formulations of the real thing. In 2000, the market for vanilla beans stood at about 2,200 tonnes a year. But after a devastating hurricane in Madagascar - the world's biggest vanilla producer - that destroyed about 35 per cent of the crop and 15 per cent of the stocks in storage, prices leapt from $25-$40 a kilo in 1999 to their present level of $200-$230 a kilo.
Many food manufacturers, unable to afford the high prices, turned to artificial substitutes. In turn, this led to drop in demand for real vanilla just as producers, attracted by the high prices, were increasing production.
According to ITC/UN Statistics the aggregate global demand for vanilla is estimated at about 2000 to 3000 metric tonnes a year with the world market for vanilla beans highly concentrated in a few developed countries.
US, France and Germany account for about 80 per cent of world imports, the US absorbing 50 to 60 per cent, France and Germany between 10 to 15 per cent each. These three countries are also major re-exporters of both vanilla beans and processed vanilla products.
Vanilla can be found in a wide range of food applications including ice-cream and other dairy products, desserts, and beverages.
Ingredients giant Danisco, a leading extractor of vanilla in the Americas, has developed two new flavour systems to help manufacturers' margins.
"When using a vanilla replacer as a toner or smoother to a high-proof spirit, we can show savings of approximately 50 per cent based on today's price of vanilla three-fold extract," said Samantha Forgham, business manager, beverages with Danisco.
Vanilla extract is used in the development of high-proof alcoholic beverages. But with traditional vanilla flavour profiles still desired by consumers, beverage producers have struggled to find cost-effective, palatable solutions to the escalating price of vanilla.
The company's Flavor Creation Group along with the Beverage Application Team have developed a range of vanilla flavours designed to extend or eliminate vanilla extract's use in high-proof alcoholic beverages.
According to Danisco, the first system, using a natural and artificial alcohol blender helps to replace the vanilla extract used to tone, blend and smooth the rough notes of alcohol.
The second system, a combination of natural vanilla extender and natural and artificial alcohol blender completely replaces Vanilla 3x Pure Bourbon Extract in alcoholic beverages 'without any flavour compromise', said the company.
"These extenders and blenders do not add any other flavour off notes, only the desired vanilla character," said Forgham.