How Future50 company Omega Ingredients is helping to solve the vanilla crisis

Omega Ingredients chief executive and co-founder Steve Pearce. Picture: Tom Moggach.

Omega Ingredients chief executive and co-founder Steve Pearce. Picture: Tom Moggach. - Credit: Archant

It's one of the world's favourite flavours - but the soaring price of vanilla has caused problems for food and drink companies across the world.

The price of the spice overtook silver earlier this year as successive poor vanilla bean crops from the world's largest producer, Madagascar, meant demand outstripped supply.

But that has opened up an opportunity that Future50 member Omega Ingredients has been able to capitalise upon – with sales of its vanilla flavours and extracts increasing ten-fold as manufacturers scramble to source alternatives.

The Great Blakenham company creates natural flavours and fragrances which are supplied to food, drink, fragrance and cosmetics manufacturers across the world.

Five years ago, vanilla was trading at around $20 a kilogram, against more than $500 currently – though its springtime peak saw it edge over $600. By comparison, silver is trading for around $480/kg.

Omega works with real vanilla beans to develop its own extract and, from that, its natural vanilla flavours - allowing customers in markets from ice cream and drinks to baking and confectionery to continue marketing their products as 100% natural.

Other non-natural alternatives are derived from petroleum products using chemical synthesis, or as a by-product of wood pulp processing.

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Co-founder and biochemist Steve Pearce said: 'Since vanilla prices started to soar two years ago, we have seen the industry struggle to find a practical and cost-effective solution to satisfying demand for vanilla-led products that maintain the same level of quality consumers expect.'

Omega has worked with manufacturers to incorporate its vanilla flavour into their products, with sales teams reporting greater demand for products which can explain their provenance.

'With transparency in the industry more topical than ever, it is this clarity, and the ability to fully clean-label products that have been the drive behind the surge in our vanilla sales,' Mr Pearce added.

Omega Ingredients won the Medium Business award at the Suffolk Business Awards, run by the East Anglian Daily Times in July.

It has also worked with Tesco to develop the flavour for its own-brand low-calorie non-alcoholic pre-mixed gin and tonics.