Vanilla Vida wants the world to eat more natural vanilla – TechCrunch


Vanilla is indeed “the world’s most popular flavor.” However, despite its popularity, the production is so complex that many people don’t often get the real thing, but a synthetic version of the flavoring.

About 70% of the vanilla we consume is grown in Madagascar, and if you’ve been watching the weather news lately, the area has been hit by not one, but two cyclones in the past 10 days. This isn’t just a “now” problem, but storms and poor growing conditions have plagued the area for nearly 20 years, pushing the vanilla price from $25 per kilogram to hundreds of dollars per kilogram.

According to Vanilla Vida CEO Oren Zilberman, increasing climate change, inconsistent supply of natural vanilla beans, and labor-intensive vanilla growing practices are some of the reasons 95% of the vanilla we consume is synthetic.

Israel-based Vanilla Vida is among a handful of companies trying to replicate vanilla using innovative approaches. For example, Spero Renewables, which developed a process to extract an acid in corn fiber to make vanilla, and Pigmentum, which is working on a way to produce the taste and smell of vanilla in lettuce.

In the case of Vanilla Vida, it takes the more direct agricultural approach – Zilberman’s roots are in agriculture – by developing vertical integration and supply chain technologies so that natural vanilla can be grown in a controlled environment.

The company started in 2019 with an idea that emerged from a failed research experiment into vanilla growth in the Netherlands. Vanilla Vida took the aspects of the research that did work and expanded it into new places of cultivation and processing, essentially disrupting the entire supply chain.

“What pushed us forward more than in the past was reaching the important milestone of giving customer value – product quality,” Zilberman told TechCrunch.

Since the company’s official launch in 2020 at The Kitchen, the Strauss accelerator in Israel, the team has focused on customer engagement and connection, which Zilberman called “initial scale.”

“The good news is we have more demand than capabilities, but scaling is the most challenging part and that’s where we are now,” he added.

The goal is to provide end-to-end quantity, quality and cost stability for the vanilla supply chain through advanced cultivation methods for the beans through smart farms and in climate-controlled greenhouses.

To help scale up, Vanilla Vida raised $11.5 million in a Series A round led by Ordway Selections, with the participation of FoodSparks, Newtrition of PeakBridge Partners and Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.

The latest round gives the company about $15 million in total funding so far. Zilberman said investors were so excited about the technology that he had the chance to raise double that amount, but he decided to take it easy and pick strategic investors who would help his company grow the right way.

In the meantime, in 2021, the company was engaged in a pilot program with more than 20 companies.

“In the beginning almost no potential customer knew who Vanilla Vida was, and now that they have seen the quality of the product, we are getting results from those who say they have not seen such a high quality product to this day,” Silverman said.

The customers are asking for volume that the company can’t yet support, but he said the new capital will allow the company to dive deeper into its R&D and technology, while also creating a greater barrier to entry for competitors that Zilberman says will soon. come.

The capital will also be used for its lab facilities, starting in Israel and then expanding into the United States and Europe, recruiting and engaging customers who he says are some of the largest food producers and seasonings.

Vanilla Vida is still a new player working with a new technology, but Zilberman expects the company to increase its volume in 2023 with visible change in the vanilla supply chain from 2024 or 2025.

“There will be two big first moves at the same time: building facilities and continuing our work with existing farmers in countries where they grow vanilla, such as Uganda and Papua New Guinea,” he added.

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