“We have integrated all the growth processes of vanilla production; the vertical, active – and industrial part at the same time. Bringing an innovative solution to agriculture that did not exist before was a great opportunity for the company. We want to expand the vanilla market, but not to lead it,” says Oren Zilberman, co-founder and CEO of Vanilla Vida.
Vanilla Vida, an agricultural startup based in Israel, aims to produce vanilla by constantly improving yield while protecting the environment and using zero carbon. As the spice is normally grown in a tropical environment, inside the jungle with a need for large amounts of water, lots of shade is needed. With a combination of green energy, a climate controlled greenhouse, an enclosed environment and shade, the company can mimic the right growing conditions perfectly. Inside the greenhouse they grow at least 10m2 tall and cover over 15,000 acres.
The idea came from one of the three co-founders, Shlome, who researched the spice. He discovered that vanilla was not yet truly grown commercially in a CEA climate. Shortly after, he wanted to try his luck in Israel, in a big way. Backed by venture capitalists, the first seed investment arrived and things took off from there. One of their biggest investors is Kitchen Hub, Israel’s largest food hub.
The installation of the vanilla greenhouse
Regarding customers, the company focuses on F&F businesses and also chooses to work with local distributors around the world to engage in the gourmet market: chefs, restaurants, hotels and pastry shops. At these parties, the products are sold in the form of dry vanilla beans, where most of it is distributed in Europe as the largest participant and the United States thereafter.
Vanillin accounts for 70% of the spice’s aroma. It is the biggest focal point during the drying process. Even so, the company is still trying to increase this percentage. “We understand that we can produce a high quality product, so we want to offer our customers the best value for money.
Enhance the vanilla flavors
“We know we have competitors on a global scale, but we do things a little differently. Our vanilla is grown in the most efficient environment with fewer resources at a high density per m2. Not only do we want to be the best producer, but we “I also want to get the maximum efficiency from our crops. It’s an optimization game in every aspect. The challenge of being a good grower is also having a very sophisticated protocol to make sure everything is done right,” explains Oren.
After harvest, the beans are green and not ready for use. Before the harvest becomes high quality, it must first be processed. The right aroma is triggered by drying using a specific spectrum perfectly defined for the process. Thanks to the intelligent drying process, the company is able to convert 90-100% of glycovanillin into vanillin and obtain a raw material that is three times more concentrated compared to the market.
The controlled greenhouse
Speed up the drying process
According to Oren, very little data is available on vanilla production because the market is limited, the products are expensive and it is rather difficult to grow the product. “The only difference with us is that we can grow vanilla anywhere. However, the real challenge is drying the pods. We apply indoor drying based on data that includes metabolism during pod drying.
Normally, it would take four to six months to dry vanilla, says Oren. While indoors, the company can now reduce that to just two months. “We can completely understand what’s going on inside the beans. On top of that, we can naturally navigate enzymes to trigger certain flavors. That’s where we gain and gain different aromas. Since we can offer a bespoke product, we currently produce the most concentrated product in the world, backed by F&F leading company evaluation (sensory panels and analytical data) We are not here to replace the traditional farmer but to augment the whole of demand for natural vanilla.
Expansion across Europe
The company can bring vanilla production as close to the extraction facility as possible. As Oren explains, most vanilla is produced in Madagascar, so bringing the production side of things to other parts of the world would be a perfect fit for the business. “The demand has doubled, so you are assured that the products will be sold.”
A SaaS solution isn’t going to market anytime soon, Oren reveals. For now, the ultimate goal is to build and operate unique vanilla facilities in different locations around the world. To do this, two new sites will be built in the United States and Europe to reduce the environmental impact of market proximity. “You can’t do food manufacturing for food’s sake. You have to build it yourself in order to have an impact on the market.”
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Oren Zilberman, CEO