The Road to Sustainably Sourced Breyers® Natural Vanilla
This delicious spice has a long and storied history, but now it’s also providing a crucial leg up for small farmers in Madagascar.
Let’s consider for a moment the unfair phrase “plain vanilla”—because there’s nothing plain about this complex, aromatic extract. The same vanilla that creates the rich taste of Breyers® Natural Vanilla ice cream was an ancient spice first prized by the Aztecs.
Later, Spanish conquistadors returned home with a taste for the dried fruits of the tree-hugging orchid—the precious vanilla beans. Later, French planters transported them to the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean, where the crop flourished and eventually became accessible to cooks and bakers all over the world.
AN AMBITIOUS INITIATIVE
Today, in the lush forests of Madagascar, vanilla’s saga is up against a harsh reality. Smallholder farmers who work family-owned plots of one or two acres produce the majority of the world’s supply of this precious culinary commodity.
But these farmers struggle with deforestation, corruption in the market, and the vagaries of nature within one of the poorest nations on the earth. “It just didn’t seem to be very fair,” says Andrea Krzywoglowy, Breyers® Ice Cream Master Blender.
In 2015, Breyers® and its parent company, Unilever, began an ambitious initiative to improve conditions—and support the survival of vanilla farming—in Madagascar’s northeastern Sava region. The area is home to the 4,000 farmers who supply all the vanilla for Breyers®' products.
Breyers® Natural Vanilla is made with high-quality ingredients such as fresh cream, sugar, milk, and of course, real vanilla. Today, all of this vanilla used in Breyers® products is sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms in Madagascar, sustainably grown to benefit farm families, wildlife, and the environment.
The Rainforest Alliance, an international conservation organization, and its local partners have set up field schools to teach farmers best practices for crop diversification, water and waste management, habitat preservation benefitting the country’s rich biodiversity, and ethical treatment of workers and their families.
As a major customer in the region, Unilever has switched to sustainably farmed vanilla, which helps farmers produce higher yields that can be sold at higher prices. Those profits reward the painstaking work farmers undertake when they hand-pollinate the vanilla vines during a six- to eight-hour window that occurs only once a year. But something else is blossoming among these flowering vines: hope.
These days, schools have new classrooms, textbooks, and recreational equipment. Doctors who would typically make more money in the big cities have taken advantage of subsidies, setting up shop in villages now that many families in them can afford medical care for the first time.
This is thanks to an innovative program that helps the farms provide access to medical services, which is one criterion of Rainforest Alliance certification.
Most consumers probably won’t be able to taste the difference between sustainably farmed and conventionally grown vanilla from Madagascar. But knowing where food comes from and how it was produced satisfies another hunger that consumers feel today.
“We believe that going the extra mile really makes a difference in our products, for our consumers and also for the people we partner with: our farmers,” says Krzywoglowy. “Ultimately, it’s a win-win for everybody.”