1.1 Definition and scope of the study
Vanilla refers to the fruit of the Vanilla planifolia orchid, commonly known as the vanilla tree, which is found in the undergrowth of tropical rainforests. It comes in the form of a pod that has an aromatic scent and flavour. The transition from a scentless fruit to a richly aromatic spice requires a long and methodical process called "preparation".
The vanilla industry is divided into :
- The upstream part which comes down to the cultivation of the vanilla trees and the recovery of the fruit. It is carried out by tropical countries, in particular Madagascar, which accounts for about 80% of world production.
- The primary downstream part which includes the transformation of the fruit into a spice with a methodic process called the "preparation". It sometimes takes place directly on the production site but is often carried out by Western multinationals.
- The secondary downstream part, which refers to the production of finished products (pod, powder, paste, natural flavour, artificial flavour, syrup or sugar) distributed to end consumers who are mostly in developed countries.
Vanilla is mainly used in bakery products, but also as a perfume in cosmetics or in the manufacture of candles, beauty products, medical care products and home air fresheners, for example.
The United States, France and Germany together account for about 80% of the global vanilla trade and are the main players in the downstream part of the value chain. Madagascar, on the other hand, provides the bulk of the world's vanilla supply, the upstream part. For the past 10 years, world production has been around 2500 tons per year.
Apart from French Polynesia and Reunion Island, which grow it, the French market focuses on importing, preparing and selling vanilla. France appears as a European leader in the vanilla trade and accounts for 14% of the world's vanilla imports, which it partly re-exports.
The market is relatively concentrated in terms of producing countries, but natural vanilla production is now facing competition from synthetic vanilla, a segment that gains in importance due to its insensitivity to climatic conditions and its very low price.
While vanilla prices have exploded in recent years, the year 2020 seems to herald a fall in vanilla prices due to particularly high production. The global Covid-19 pandemic is also expected to strenghten this trend. Finally, while artificial vanilla is gaining ground, some vanilla-using domains remain faithful to the natural, supporting the development of more sustainable sources of supply with "organic" or "fair trade" products for example.
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