A partner
with taste

In the project “Vanilla For Change”, Symrise is working closely with Unilever and a number of non-govern­mental organizations. Young people in England are now also benefiting from its commitment to sustainable raw mate­rials and vanilla farmers in Madagascar. Here’s a look at one major project that has been a model for partnership- based, socially conscious and environmentally friendly purchasing of raw materials for 15 years.

A partner
with taste

In the project “Vanilla For Change”, Symrise is working closely with Unilever and a number of non-govern­mental organizations. Young people in England are now also benefiting from its commitment to sustainable raw mate­rials and vanilla farmers in Madagascar. Here’s a look at one major project that has been a model for partnership- based, socially conscious and environmentally friendly purchasing of raw materials for 15 years.

May 17, 2019, was a special day for Symrise. Its red and white company logo with a dragon and hummingbird could be seen across England in ads for Wall’s ice cream, next to the trademarks of the non-governmental organizations ME to WE and Save The Children. Rarely had Symrise been so directly visible to consumers as a supplier. The reason for the premiere? Wall’s ice cream, a subsidiary of Unilever, uses sustainable vanilla extracts from Madagascar in various varieties sold under the name “Vanilla For Change.” Symrise launched the project together with Unilever and the two NGOs.

Ian Maskell (left) from Unilever and Gérald Delettre from Symrise worked closely together on the Vanilla For Change project.

“The project makes us proud because we can show our direct influence on the production of a very sustainable raw material. In addition, we can excellently position ourselves in the environment of these brands, with which we share the same values,” says Gérald Delettre, who supports the Symrise customer Unilever and worked with Ian Maskell to drive the project forward. Maskell is Vice President Global Brand Development at Unilever, where he is responsible for ice cream. He shares Delettre’s enthusiasm. “It’s a small revolution for us, too, to introduce one of our suppliers to consumers in this way. But without this fantastic partner, we couldn’t do this kind of work,” says Maskell, who leads a large and diverse business.

The starting signal

Several years passed before the campaign was launched. The first traces of Vanilla For Change can be found in 2014, when the two companies, supported by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), decided to improve the living conditions of vanilla farmers in Madagascar and their families. Things really got going a year later, when Ian Maskell visited the SAVA region and saw how Symrise is committed to the village communities on the island. The visit was like a catalyst. “We were very impressed with the work Symrise was doing there,” says Maskell. “For me personally, it was the first time working being exposed to a company so committed to a specific ingredient and the people behind it.”

Wall’s decided to support the project. “The people in Madagascar have to struggle with so many problems – with a poor education system, with severe poverty as the twelfth-poorest country in the world, with corruption and poor health care. It’s very touching when you come from a Western country and are used to our lifestyle.” At the same time, it was obvious to them how proud peo- ple were of their product despite all their hardships, for example, when they showed the plantations, which are often far away from the houses.

“The project makes us proud because we can show our direct influence on the production of a very sustainable raw material.”

Gérald Delettre,
Symrise

Vanila is always
among the

top 3

flavors worldwide

Total Ice cream market is estimated at

€ 69 bn

(retail sales value)

Vanilla For Change benefits

40.000

people in 76 villages in Madagascar receiving lifesaving health insurance, financial education and training opportunities for young people

Unilever ranks #1 with market share

19,1 % »It’s a small revolution for us, too, to introduce one of our suppliers to consumers in this way. But without this fantastic partner, we couldn’t do this kind of work.«

Ian Maskell, Vice President Global Brand Development at Unilever

Vanila is always
among the

top 3

flavors worldwide

Total Ice cream market is estimated at

€ 69 bn

(retail sales value)

Vanilla For Change benefits

40.000

people in 76 villages in Madagascar receiving lifesaving health insurance, financial education and training opportunities for young people

Unilever ranks #1 with market share

19,1 % »It’s a small revolution for us, too, to introduce one of our suppliers to consumers in this way. But without this fantastic partner, we couldn’t do this kind of work.«

Ian Maskell, Vice President Global Brand Development at Unilever

The children made a particularly strong impression on the Unilever manager. He noticed the conditions in the schools, for example, and the inadequate teaching materials and the lack of classrooms. “All this has shown us where we can start and have a real impact,” Ian Maskell recalls. “We then approached the NGO Save The Children, which had never been active in Madagascar before.” Together, they created a project that now benefits 7,000 farmers and their families – a total of around 40,000 people. “We foster their resilience in the face of many problems so that they can lead a better life,” says Gérald Delettre.

This starts with social security, such as financing a nurse who can visit the farmers even in the most remote areas, and it continues with support for a small hospital or for equipping schools. People are also provided with rice, the main component of their daily diet. In periods when their crops can’t be sold yet, they thus still have enough to eat. In addition, Symrise has developed a system that supports farmers in their work. Young people can attend an agricultural academy, and experts financed by Symrise can help improve cultivation and harvests.

The visit to Madagascar showed Unilever Manager Ian Maskell where the companies should best start with their involvement.

Strong partners

“Our teams work very closely with our partners, for example, in fulfilling the requirements for organic certificates,” says Delettre. One of these partners is the Rainforest Alliance, where Pilar Pedrinelli works as Public Engagement Manager. A committed manager early in her career, Pedrinelli had an interesting role at Vanilla For Change, which she helped develop as a Unilever employee. In autumn 2019 she moved to the NGO, a decision that was also connected to her experiences in Madagascar. “In Madagascar, we organized events for Vanilla For Change, such as a soccer tournament between different villages where the players wore the campaign logo on their backs,” she says, remembering. “At the time, this really touched me because I realized what influence we as a company could have.” After Vanilla For Change started, she thought about how she could work more directly on these kinds of projects. The next step was to move to a non-governmental organization. “I can contribute things here that I learned at Unilever, as a globally active company – and continue to work with the Group and other partners.”

Pilar Pedrinelli from the Rainforest Alliance helped develop Vanilla For Change when she was still working at Unilever. For Gérald Delettre from Symrise, the sustainable project immensely helps all those involved.

Pilar Pedrinelli from the Rainforest Alliance helped develop Vanilla For Change when she was still working at Unilever. For Gérald Delettre from Symrise, the sustainable project immensely helps all those involved.

For her, partnerships are the key to success, no matter which side you are on. “Success only comes through cooperation,” she says, often referring to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 17, which envisions global cooperation based on partnerships leading to sustainable development. “Our work would not function at all without companies like Symrise. We need their influence, their support for the communities,” says Pilar Pedrinelli. At the Rainforest Alliance, Pedrinelli will, for now, focus on other areas in order to further publicize the work of the NGO. But she’ll keep an eye on vanilla. “Part of the commitment at Symrise is, for example, to support farmers in diversifying their agriculture with new products, thus securing their income and protecting the environment at the same time. That’s a very good approach,” she says. It would be conceivable, for example, to also certify these raw materials or to be involved in the projects right from the start.

From madagascar to the world

For Pilar Pedrinelli, the work being done in Madagascar is a huge step toward helping people improve their living conditions. “But at the time, we also thought about how we could make Vanilla For Change visible around the world and how we could get other people to see the commitment the way we see it,” she recalls. A suitable partner for this goal was the Canadian non-governmental organization ME to WE, which is also active in England. It motivates young people to get involved in their communities; a total of 100,000 young people are already involved. “ME to WE was exactly the right partner to communicate our story. Together we were able to convey a simple message,” says Unilever’s Ian Maskell. “Our commitment is driving a change that will benefit young people in Madagascar and the UK.”

The Unilever manager looks to the future in other ways, too. “We are considering how we can extend Vanilla For Change to other ice cream brands,” continues Maskell. But that’s not all – “The project was a kind of turning point for us as to how we can and want to work together with suppliers. In this way, we will also make the purchasing of other raw materials more sustainable – and here we have learned a lot from Vanilla For Change.”

»Our teams work very closely with our partners, for example, in fulfilling the requirements for organic certificates.«

Gérald Delettre,
Symrise

»Our work would not function at all without companies like Symrise. We need their influence, their support for the communities.«

Pilar Pedrinelli
Public Engagement Managerin, Rainforest Alliance

»Our work would not function at all without companies like Symrise. We need their influence, their support for the communities.«

Pilar Pedrinelli
Public Engagement Managerin, Rainforest Alliance