Spiralling vanilla pod prices have seen supplies of Britain’s favourite ice-cream melt away.
A cyclone that struck Madagascar earlier this year devastated the crop in the world’s key producer – badly hitting availability and spiking prices.
In a classic case of demand outstripping supply, ice cream makers and gelato producers around the globe have been left scrambling to secure the vanilla extract.
And the shortage has already seen one of London’s leading artisanal gelato shops, Oddono’s Gelati Italiani, pull vanilla-flavoured iced treats from its menu.
A notice posted in its Chiswick store says that owing to an “unprecedented shortage” of pods, customers will not be able to get vanilla flavours until the 2017 crop is ready.
The notice adds: “The price has gone up 500% in the last year, also due to a few large middlemen keeping the stock and forcing prices even higher.”
Marco Petracchini, operations manager at Oddono’s, said they could buy a kilogram of vanilla pods for £250 before the cyclone in March – now the same amount would cost about £650.
“The problem is because of the shortage the pods on sale are not great quality,” he added.
“It’s been ridiculous,” Charlie Thuillier, founder and managing director at UK based Oppo, which makes healthier ice cream from virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf, told the Financial Times.
Since 2015, the price of the spice has soared to “a never-before seen peak of between $600 and $750 a kilo”, according to Georges Geeraerts, president of Madagascar’s Group of Vanilla Exporters.
From about 2005, until the price started climbing, vanilla cost about $30.
A surge in demand – and consequently price – was sparked in part by consumer demands for products to contain fewer synthetic ingredients.
Food colourings and flavourings – all those dreaded “E” numbers – have been replaced with natural products.
And following the impact of cyclone Enawo earlier this year, the situation for producers in Madagascar has become more fraught.
There have been reports of plantations being raided by organised gangs and owners have had to employ round-the-clock security to protect the crop.
Some growers have picked their pods prematurely, resulting in declining standards.
“Nothing distinguishes a good pod from a bad pod, you can’t tell the difference,” exporter Lucia Ranja Salvetat told AFP.
Madagascar is by far the leading producer of vanilla, about 3,750 tonnes a year, well ahead of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Mexico.
Market watcher Mintel says almost three in five (58%) UK men aged 16-24 say they typically eat ice cream once a week or more in the spring and summer months, compared to just 46% of women aged 16-24. UK consumers purchased about 337 million litres of ice cream in 2016.