When you see the words “selection of ice creams” on the menu, you already know what that selection will consist of: the classics, chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
But for many of us, the latter option might not be available.
Timeline for British food
- July 28, 2017
Yep, in news that’s sure to shake people to their very cores, vanilla ice cream shortages are in full swing.
This is sure to be terrible news for many as, according to the Ice Cream Alliance, vanilla is the UK’s favourite flavour.
The shortage has been looming for many months. We first heard rumblings of the lack of vanilla in March. In spring, a cyclone devastated the island of Madagascar, where 80 percent of the world’s vanilla beans are grown.
Speaking to Reuters in March, Mamy Razakarivony, chairman of the vanilla exporters group, revealed that the cyclone had been devastating. He also said that some sellers were selling immature vanilla beans. This would add poorer quality vanilla into the market:
The destruction of uprooted fields and plants (means) losses are estimated at 30 percent. High prices and poor quality vanilla: this announces a catastrophic season. People are already starting to pick up the immature vanilla that has been pulled out due to the cyclone.
The cyclone killed at least 81 people and displaced 250,000 from their homes. Both these figures could potentially have a huge impact on vanilla production.
Unlike most other fruits (vanilla pods are fruit) the vanilla we eat is pollinated by hand.
This is due to the fact that vanilla, which originally derives from Mexican orchids, can only be pollinated by a particular species of Melipona bees. These bees are only found in Mexico or Central America.
As a result, despite Madagascar having an ideal climate for growing vanilla, it is a very labour-intensive process.
This video from Prova, a Madagascan vanilla exporter details the process:
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The cyclone’s impact on Madagascar’s human population has a huge impact on the cultivation of the vanilla plant.
As a result of the cyclone, a much smaller vanilla stock than usual was harvested this year. And the UK is beginning to see the effects of the shortage now.
The price per kilo of vanilla has skyrocketed in recent months.
What used to cost $175 now costs around $700. This is due to both the smaller crop than usual, plus some sneaky middlemen who are keeping hold of stock to force prices upwards.
While these increased costs won’t affect big retailers too much, it’s the smaller gelaterias and ice cream vendors who are feeling the squeeze.
Unfortunately, until prices come down there’s not a huge amount vanilla ice cream fans can do. Just sit and wait and be grateful for the humble vanilla we all take for granted!
Other food shortages that have brought Britain to a standstill
Of course, while the vanilla ice cream shortage is a huge issue, this is hardly the first time Britain has suffered shortages of our favourite foods.
Lettuce, courgettes, cauliflower, and broccoli
After series of terrible weather events in Murcia, Spain before Christmas, Britain found itself in the midst of a vegetable shortage earlier in 2017. Flooding, followed by the largest snowfall in decades meant Murcia’s vegetable crop was particularly bad.
And considering the region is responsible for 74 percent of Spain’s entire lettuce output, things looked dire.
Supermarkets had to limit lettuces to just three per customer! An absolute nightmare of literally international proportions!
Again, poor weather is to blame. English Apples and Pears, an industry body, reported in March that this year’s apple harvest was down six percent but demand was up four percent.
The hardest hit were Cox apples. Thankfully, most supermarkets were able to substitute New Zealand apples instead and no one seemed to notice the difference.
No weather can be blamed on this one.
The much-talked about Prosecco shortage is entirely of our own making. A victim of its own success, Prosecco stock was rumoured to be running low worldwide because the drink was so popular.
As Prosecco can only be produced in one small part of Northern Italy, demand was outstripping supply as the drink became more popular than champagne. This shortage first came to public attention in 2016 but so far its effects haven’t been felt.
This one was rumoured back in 2014 but at the time it was said we wouldn’t see any shortages until 2020.
Essentially, the whole cocoa supply chain is falling apart. Farmers are finding it more difficult to harvest cocoa from aging trees, and their struggling to make profits on what they do grow.
Processors are struggling to keep up with increasing global demand. Corporations are concerned by rising cocoa prices due to the issues in farming and processing.
And all the while consumers are demanding more and more chocolate.
Milk, cheese, cream
Another one that’s on the horizon. Thanks to a global overproduction of milk in 2016, prices for dairy dropped dramatically, meaning that some farmers weren’t turning a profit on their produce.
This year, farmers have been much more cautious to avoid that situation. Unfortunately, this means that some experts have predicted a shortage of milk, cheese, and cream heading to the UK this Christmas.
We’d tell you to stock up, but you probably shouldn’t store dairy from now until December…
The fact is that, if you care to look, food shortages of various kinds are pretty common. Ultimately we all just get on with it and make dietary substitutes.
Next time you enjoy a bowl of vanilla ice cream, a crunchy salad, or a glass of Prosecco, enjoy it. After all, these things shouldn’t be taken for granted!