Side Note

A $139,000 vanilla heist

Vanilla is now worth more than silver, and thieves across the world are cashing in. This week, a Michigan spice store employee was arrested for embezzling $139,000 in vanilla beans. For months she had been swiping bits of their supply and selling them in small quantities on eBay. The owners of the spice store only discovered the breach after noticing discrepancies in their finances, and a security camera they installed showed the woman hauling out a 50-pound box of vanilla at 4 a.m. the next morning.

Because of a shortage of vanilla in Madagascar, the country that produces 80 percent of the world’s supply of the crop, vanilla prices are sky high. That’s because customer demand is increasing, and as farmers attempt to harvest their beans early to keep pace, they’ve accidentally spoiled crops. A cyclone that hit the nation in March 2017 and destroyed nearly ⅓ of vanilla crops only exacerbated the problem. According to the Financial Times, vanilla is currently valued at around $600 per kilogram — more than silver — representing more than a sixfold increase since 2015.

Already in Madagascar, so many thieves have targeted vanilla crops that, OZY reported last year, “farmers have teamed with locals to create security teams to stand guard.” Some of the security teams have shot thieves to death. And the exorbitant prices may just affect your dessert intake: in response to the crises, Nestlé has already increased the cost of its vanilla ice cream by 2.5 percent, and many local ice cream vendors are promising to go vanilla-free.