It’s simple. We spent our early careers in diverse aspects of the food business and wanted to write a life chapter together thinking big, starting small and having fun. Vanilla was an easy choice – it’s something many people buy but few think about. The vanilla trade is an old business with old ways – it needed a good dusting. We decided to mix-it-up, offering choice and a better way forward. So, we started a NEW vanilla extract company from scratch, focused on people and purpose. Within our new focus, we allowed ourselves to get curious and pushed each other to learn new skills. And, we got lost. We got so lost we couldn’t articulate our ‛vision’ to anyone but ourselves. (If you have been there, you know – hang in there). We decided to put on our “perseverance-pants,” dig deeper into problems than we ever had in our 20 years together and let it all ride on what could be. The result was our two-ounce bottle of small-batch pure vanilla extract. It was a one-part magic trick and one-part disciplined execution combined with the most important part – people and purpose.
On the weekend, we often take an early morning trip to the vibrant St. Paul Farmers Market. It’s our thing. In the springtime, we wait in line at our favorite organic farm stands for butter lettuce, asparagus, and arugula. We think about these seasonal veggies all year and happily exchange our money directly with local growers. The farmers market is a good direct sale for the grower. They deserve it. Our favorite organic farm stands are passionate and skilled about growing quality vegetables. We delight in these flavors and happily return home to prepare special meals.
Vanilla beans are imported. Local and domestic vanilla bean growers do not exist. And, it’s true. We had never imported anything before. So, since we knew the best vanilla beans made the best extract, we relied on our local farmers market model – go direct for the best. We invested in relationships with progressive vanilla bean growers looking for a partnership and made certain to bring everyone along in the process. Today, we buy quality vanilla beans for our small-batch vanilla extract directly from local grower cooperatives and women-owned businesses in Madagascar just like we buy local vegetables at the farmers market.
Historically, Madagascar grows about 80% of the world’s vanilla bean crop and is known as the center of the vanilla-universe. Yet, Madagascar remains one of the most impoverished countries in the world with the vast majority of the population employed in agriculture. In 2018, the price of vanilla beans surpassed the price of an equal weight of silver. That gets us back to the people and purpose of the Vanilla Bean Project and how we move forward together. All Madagascar origin vanilla beans in Vanilla Bean Project’s certified organic products are traceable to the village level. When our vanilla beans originate from a member-owned cooperative in Madagascar, the full value of our direct-trade purchase is shared by people, families, and communities forming the cooperative.
We are asking you to make one small change - buy from the Vanilla Bean Project. Our purpose is to provide a better option for vanilla, similar to imported fair-trade coffee or slavery-free cocoa. Vanilla extract is already in your pantry. Only a handful of large successful companies process vanilla extract, many have been in business over a hundred years and control retail market share like oligopolies. We learned how to make a commercial vanilla extract from out of print books (a similar pathway pioneered by Ben & Jerry’s as we just found out). Vanilla Bean Project offers a new forward direction to bring people along by doing better than the old ways of the vanilla business. Join the project. Together, we will make a long term impact in the vanilla market to do better by people and our planet.