Food shortages hit, and they hit hard. Avocados, bacon, olive oil—no food is immune to the unexpected weather patterns, theft, and random acts of nature that can wreak havoc on crop yields. Every time a dry season ruins a harvest, or a hurricane floods a farm, it leads to a huge bump in prices for those ingredients across the market. And now, the Boston Globe reports, the heavy hammer of supply and demand has come down on one of summer’s most important foods:
Vanilla ice cream.
Thanks to a March monsoon that decimated farms on the country of Madagascar—an island responsible for growing 80 percent of all vanilla beans—prices for the flavorful (and surprisingly labor-intensive) beans have skyrocketed. The Globe is also reporting that for many ice cream shops, who depend on the crop not just for vanilla ice cream but as the base of a wide range of flavors, this has caused the price of purchasing beans from wholesalers to more than double ahead of the busy summer months.
The Feast spoke with Paul Nasrani, the founder of Adirondack Creamery, to get a better idea of just what the vanilla shortage means for businesses that rely on it. “The vanilla we use for our vanilla beans, on average, runs about $80 to $95 a gallon during the most stable periods. Now, after the storm, it’s up to as much as $425 a gallon,” Nasrani tells us.
But this isn’t the first time Adirondack Creamery has dealt with volatile vanilla bean prices. Shortly after opening his creamery in 2003, a different storm decimated vanilla bean crops and caused a similar market shortage and price hike.
For Adirondack Creamery, their strategy then is the same as it is today: “We never waiver on using fresh ingredients [vs. an artificial vanilla substitute]. We wouldn’t do that to our customers because they’ve come to expect a certain flavor or quality—so we just treat the beans that we do have like gold, we don’t spill or waste any of it,” Nasrani says. The biggest difference between then and now, he explains, is that customers have grown used to the taste of real vanilla—whereas 14 years ago vanilla substitutes were much more common.
Vanilla is a notoriously slow crop to grow, meaning the shortage could have impacts for the next two or more years (!!). In the meantime, Nasrani tells us that in terms of pricing he’s forced to simply eat quite a bit of the loss: raising the price just a nickel on his end could mean a markup of 80 cents by the time pints hit store shelves. Meanwhile, the Globe reports that at least a portion of other ice cream manufacturers will indeed have to raise the prices of cones in the summer months, at least until the cost of beans can stabilize.
Meaning ice cream lovers, for the time being, might just have to weather the storm.
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