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The woman on a mission to save vanilla

Words by Smiley Team

Vanilla might have come to mean ‘plain’ in today’s culture, but one woman is on a mission to prove that this exotic spice is no ordinary flavour. 

Janet Sawyer MBE, from Devon, produces vanilla pods at her orchard in Indonesia. She has encouraged the Indonesian government to reestablish its vanilla industry after palm oil planting brought about mass deforestation. She is working to save the vanilla pod from dying out by growing, harvesting and selling her own vanilla. 

Janet is the managing director of LittlePod, which created a ‘Campaign for Real Vanilla' – an initiative that gives back to farmers and communities in Madagascar and Indonesia. 

On her website, Janet describes LittlePod as a “sustainable, award-winning company” and explains that she has had the lucky opportunity to meet skilled teams of people, who have helped to boost the reputation that LittlePod has today. 

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LittlePod has also been given endorsements from figures like sustainability specialist Patricia Rain, who supports the use of real vanilla and has been dubbed ‘The Vanilla Queen’.

The company was founded over a decade ago, after Janet hosted an event with an expert in the vanilla industry, who told her about its history and agriculture. This inspired her to spread the word of pure vanilla and to help those who grow it.

In recent times, below 1% of vanilla flavour has come from real vanilla orchids, and 97% of the food industry uses vanilla essence, an inexpensive artificial substitute that’s chemically synthesised and contains just 1 flavour compound. 

Making a positive change in the vanilla industry

Pure vanilla, on the other hand, is one of the most labour-intensive crops in the world. Around 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown by roughly 80,000 smallholders in Madagascar, as, according to The Financial Times, the island is one of the few regions with the right weather pattern for vanilla to thrive. 

Failed crop yields have led to the cost of vanilla beans soaring to almost $600 per kilogram, whereas previously the price was below $50 per kilogram. 

But in spite of the big workload and booming vanilla economy, farmers can hardly survive off the land and Madagascar remains one of the world’s poorest countries.

With 10% of all sales in the LittlePod shop going to the non-profit organisation Blue Ventures, which is directly involved in rolling out a pioneering women’s health project in Madagascar among other initiatives, Janet is working to make positive change in the vanilla industry. 

Inspired to act?

TRACK YOUR IMPACT: Buy Wall’s vanilla ice cream to see the impact of its ‘Vanilla For Change’ campaign through the Track Your Impact tool. The innovative tool introduces web codes for four ice cream varieties and provides access to real stories from young farmers in Madagascar. 

SUPPORT: Find out more about the work of Blue Ventures, and get involved at


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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