Heilala Vanilla is having a landmark year, with record planting numbers achieved as it reaches its 10th birthday.
The Tauranga-based company has just completed a record 100 acres (40.5 ha) of vanilla planting in Tonga, with the first crop due to be harvested in 2021.
The new planting sees Heilala become the largest vanilla plantation in the South Pacific and positions the company to support further expansion in the US market, where sales have increased by more than 300 percent in the past 12 months, said Heilala Vanilla chief executive and co-founder Jennifer Boggis.
Achieving 100 acres of vanilla planted has been a focus for the vanilla brand for the past 18 months and will set the company and its vanilla supply up for a more sustainable future, she said.
“2018 has been a big year not just for us as a brand, but for the people of Tonga,” she said.
“They have shown their incredible resilience following Cyclone Gita and we now have a solid plan in place to continue to support and provide a positive impact for these communities in the future.”
Heilala Vanilla began as an aid project in 2002 when a vanilla plantation was established by the founders in partnership with a local family in Vava’u, Tonga.
The first crop was harvested in 2005 and brought back to New Zealand. The brand was established in 2008 with a range of vanilla products.
Heilala Vanilla has a significant impact on the local community in Tonga including providing employment, along with a sense of purpose and pride.
The company was able to take on the additional planting due to a partnership with King Tupou VI, and a partner grower who is well-respected in the vanilla industry.
The planting of another 50 acres of vanilla seedlings is planned for early 2019, to bring the total new plantings to 150 acres.
The increase allows the company to support the global vanilla demand, which has seen international prices reach record highs over the past three years due to both increased demand for real vanilla and supply issues.
100 acres is a significant increase on the standard plantation size of eight acres. The growth will result in increased employment, particularly of local women – in the small Pacific Island.
Heilala has a goal for 200 women to be employed in the Vanilla Industry in Tonga by 2022.
“It’s been 10 years since I quit my day job as an accountant and put 100 per cent of my efforts and focus into Heilala Vanilla and we’re excited about what the future holds – particularly as we increase our presence within the US market,” said Boggiss.