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General Mills Inc. sources all of its vanilla for globe-spanning Haagen-Dazs ice cream from Madagascar, the African island nation that produces 80 percent of that critical flavoring. With that in mind, the Golden Valley-based company this week said it will invest $125,000 over two years in Madagascar to help vanilla farmers improve yields and bolster crops in order to increase their incomes.
Vanilla comes from an orchid that yields a green pod. Most vanilla farmers simply sell the green pods for further processing, said Jerry Lynch, General Mills’ chief sustainability officer. General Mills’ program is aimed partly at getting farmers to also cure the pods, which turns them brown and aromatic, as a way to add value.
General Mills relies on Sava, a small region in northern Madagascar, for its vanilla. Farmers there are primarily small growers dependent on the labor-intensive crop.
The vanilla effort is part of General Mills’ broader sustainable sourcing program. The company will team with its vanilla supplier, Virginia Dare, and the humanitarian organization CARE. General Mills also funds research at the University of California, Davis, to map the vanilla genome and lay the foundation for breeding improvements.