With global demand pushing natural vanilla prices higher – and rates of theft with it -- freight forwarders replicate transport security methods used for luxury goods.
The growing demand for distinctive, natural flavor experiences around the world has boosted the appeal and value of many agricultural aromatics and spices. Near the top of that list of highly prized products is raw vanilla, which now fetches the sector’s highest prices after saffron. But that rising market appreciation has also made vanilla a target for pilfering and theft -- considerably complicating the transport and storage of what is otherwise a stable and easily handled commodity. As a result, freight forwarding experts and their partners are rolling out new practices for moving vanilla around the globe, and providing it with security enhancements rivaling those for luxury goods.
The structure and limits of vanilla production explain its surging value in recent years. Madagascar alone exports around 80% of the world’s supply, with growers in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India and Uganda seeking to increase their smaller yields. But new cultivation of vanilla takes five to seven years before producing the first beans, and even established crops are vulnerable to damage from the world’s multiplying severe weather episodes. That combination of relatively limited supply – pegged at 2,200 to 2,400 tons per year -- and growing demand from food and cosmetic sectors have sent vanilla prices to their current average of about $450 per kilo.
“It’s unlikely global harvests will exceed 3,000 tons, or prices will drop below $330 to $350 in the short run,” says Sébastien Charruyer, the Paris-based Sales Representative overseeing international vanilla transport for freight forwarding expert Bolloré Logistics. “Artificial options just don’t match consumer preference for natural vanilla. And with emerging markets like China and Brazil developing tastes to rival traditional US and European importers, demand and value of vanilla continue rising.”
Transport and storage leaders like Bolloré Logistics have extended the framework of security measures used for luxury goods and other high-value products to vanilla. The first move was to switch from traditional maritime transport – whose 45 to 55 day duration creates a wide window of vulnerability – to rapid air alternatives. Meanwhile, shipments of exported vanilla are put under police and customs guard from the time they leave suppliers to when they’re secured on departing planes.
Mr. Charruyer says that upon landing in Paris, vanilla cargo is shifted to secure Bolloré Logistics storerooms within a two to six hour-maximum period. Designated warehouse employees using adapted procedures then break down pallets in areas covered by security cameras to record the preparation of parcels for final recipients. Those parcels are subsequently transported by protection-enhanced trucks that are also equipped with GPS and other IT devices for tracking and surveillance.
“It represents secure door-to-door care and service of a valued commodity nobody wants or can afford to have stolen,” says Mr. Charruyer of the flavoring that makes all the difference to restaurant cooks, pastry chefs, ice cream and candy makers or individual clients who insist there’s no replacement for natural vanilla.
Mr. Charruyer says the same production-side measures Bolloré Logistics adopted in Madagascar are being applied to other supply centers in India, Indonesia and Uganda. Security procedures in French reception and relay zones, meanwhile, are similarly set to be replicated throughout the group network transporting vanilla – a particularly useful asset given the rising volumes of extracts and other vanilla derivatives around the globe.