Importing vanilla from a co-operative of growers in Papua New Guinea has provided a boost for New Zealand company Equagold, quite apart from the "feel-good factor".
Equagold directors Ross and Dianne Appleton supply spices and vanilla to shops in New Zealand and Australia.
The company has been operating for nine years and Ross Appleton said the vanilla market had previously been notable for the number of middlemen involved between the growers and buyers.
So it was a no-brainer when the Torricelli Growers Co-operative, of the Sundaun province of Papua New Guinea, invited Equagold to become involved with its scheme.
The system runs a bit like Fonterra. Vanilla farmers receive the going rate for their produce and a share of the profits.
"They approached us to get assistance," Appleton said. "We were able to sit down and talk about quality control and traceability to the growers and helped with ways they could package the product. From there, we went into a formal agreement to be the main distributor in Australasia."
A total of 500 growers are involved. Under the scheme, they earn about $5000 a year. Normally they would earn a tenth of that.
"Vanilla is a labour-intensive product," Appleton said. "We're focused on giving a good return for their effort."
Torricelli vanilla crops now make up 80 per cent of Equagold's vanilla supply. It does not cost the company any more than sourcing vanilla in the traditional way.
"We pay what our price would be if we were buying through our previous sources," Appleton said.
"There's no difference to us but there's a huge difference behind the scenes because we've dropped out the middlemen."
Equagold benefits because it can play a bigger role in the quality control of the vanilla.
"Quality control is important to us and we are more a part of it this way. A critical control point is the curing of the vanilla. We've been instrumental in helping at that point. We're reaping the benefits."
Appleton expected the response from customers would be positive.
He said the "feel-good" factor of helping to improve the lives of subsistence farmers was also important to the business. "They took some of our products up there and handed them around.
"When [the farmers] saw the end product, they cried," he said.