Feb 19, 2013 • By

Vanilla program to help Madagascar farmers

Nourishing Lives. At General Mills, this is our mission. Every day this mission comes to life through the work we do to benefit people and communities around the world. This includes the farmers that grow the crops our business relies upon to make the products our consumers know and trust.

Today, General Mills and our Häagen-Dazs business announced a new vanilla sourcing program that aligns with our Nourishing Lives mission. Additionally, it builds on the company’s century-long history of working closely with farmers around the world to promote sustainable agriculture.

The new program will provide access to training and education to several hundred small vanilla farmers in Madagascar to help them produce a more sustainable and higher quality vanilla crop. Through training, farmers will learn how to add value to their crop at the farm level. This includes learning the vanilla curing process, which will let vanilla growers significantly increase their incomes.

Häagen-Dazs, the world’s leading brand of super-premium ice cream, with the General Mills Foundation, will invest $125,000 over two years to benefit villages in Madagascar’s Sava region, home of the world’s highest-quality vanilla.

We are thrilled to be partnering with one of our vanilla suppliers, Virginia Dare, which brings its deep understanding of the vanilla market to the program, and international humanitarian organization CARE, which brings its extensive expertise fighting global poverty.

In Madagascar, vanilla beans are laid out to dry in the hot sun as part of the curing process. Growers who learn to add value on the farm level will be able to significantly increase their incomes.

Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla, responsible for more than 80 percent of the world’s production. General Mills relies on the country’s Sava region for the high-quality vanilla used in Häagen-Dazs ice cream. For a majority of the estimated 80,000 Malagasy farmers, the vanilla crop is their only source of income.

“Häagen-Dazs prides itself on using only the finest ingredients, including the highest-quality of a very select breed of vanilla from Madagascar,” says David Clark, president of Häagen-Dazs, the global super-premium ice cream brand owned by General Mills. “Operating sustainably and ethically goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to deliver the super-premium products consumers expect from Häagen-Dazs.”

I recently talked to Jerry Lynch, General Mills’ chief sustainability officer, and Steve Peterson, the company’s director of sourcing sustainability, who had the opportunity to travel to Madagascar in 2011 to experience first-hand the challenges facing vanilla farmers. They spoke to me about this exciting new program in this video.

The sustainable vanilla sourcing program is part a larger, more comprehensive sustainable sourcing plan being advanced by General Mills. In 2011, General Mills completed a comprehensive global assessment of the ingredients and materials it sources, developing an overall global sustainable sourcing model. Vanilla is one of 10 ingredients General Mills has placed particular priority on sourcing sustainably. The company is now advancing sourcing strategies on each of the 10 priority ingredients where the greatest impact can be achieved.

“We have tremendous opportunities to work upstream within our supply chain to address economic, social and environmental challenges,” says Peterson. “In Madagascar, vanilla is the only source of income for these farmers. Through this program we are really trying to put more money in the pockets of these growers to improve living conditions.”

This is not the first program General Mills has launched to benefit smallholder farmers. Here are some of the other programs we have in place around the world:

  • China – Small farmers in the northeastern village of Yongqing have increased their household income two to four times since 2003 by growing corn for General Mills’ Bugles corn snacks.
  • Mexico – Contract broccoli and cauliflower growers in Irapuato are receiving no-interest loans from General Mills to adopt drip irrigation that saves water and money.
  • Africa – Partners in Food Solutions is currently working with 40 food processors on 140 projects in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi. As these food processors grow, they are able to hire more workers and source more materials from smallholder farmers.
  • Malawi – Through Join My Village, more than 3,000 small business loans have been administered in Malawi through the program’s 350 village-based savings and loan associations, positively impacting hundreds of women and families involved in food production in the area.

“We know there is much more to be done,” says Lynch. “Even as we launch this new initiative in Madagascar, we know we must remain diligent and committed to elevating our sustainability efforts even further.”