Native Vanilla’s secrets to growing a sustainable business in Papua New Guinea


Native Vanilla has seen exponential growth over the past few months given the world’s demand for top quality vanilla. Dan Edmiston, CEO and founder, explains what his company is doing to increase Papuan vanilla quality and demand around the world.

Dan Edminston [second from left] and vanilla farmers. Credit: Native Vanilla

Dan Edmiston’s family moved to East Sepik Province in 1983. As a child, he paddled in his dugout canoe, swam in the Karawari, ate sak sak and spend time with his friends while his father, an anthropologist and linguist, conducted research in the area. But when the project his father was working on came to an end, they moved back to the USA.

In 2014, however, Edmiston went back to Papua New Guinea and met with his childhood friends, who were growing vanilla. They knew they weren’t receiving competitive, fair, prices, and asked their friend for help.

‘When I was a kid, I used to sell root beer to tourists coming up the Karawari. Years later, I built up a large fintech company in Africa that I sold in 2014,’ explains Edmiston in an interview with Business Advantage PNG.

‘Agriculture is their livelihood, and vanilla supports their families, schooling and medical needs. They want to make sure they are getting a fair price and want to know what they can do to achieve that.’

After that trip to PNG, Dan was determined to help his friends sell vanilla at competitive and fair prices. He said to his wife, ‘”That’s it, there is nothing holding me back now from focusing on helping my East Sepik family.” I couldn’t wait to get started and founded Native Vanilla.’

A new player

The company works with East Sepik villages to establish cooperatives run by local farmers. This, explains Edmiston, ‘enables Native Vanilla to provide training and resources to the farmers through the cooperative.’

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Edmiston and his team do roadshows often and speak with farmers to understand their needs, and together try to find solutions.

Native Vanilla currently supports close to 2000 farmers in East Sepik and has expanded to Western Province, where 100 vanilla growers were paid recently for the first time ever.

‘Agriculture is their livelihood, and vanilla supports their families, schooling and medical needs. They want to make sure they are getting a fair price and want to know what they can do to achieve that,’ he explains.

Through Native Vanilla, PNG farmers involved in the project are getting training to achieve higher and more consistent quality. Edmiston believes that the company can help to improve the quality of vanilla and ‘grow the demand for PNG vanilla.’

‘We created a standard called CHAMMS, which stands for Consistent Vanilla Beans, High Vanillin Content, Aesthetically Pleasing, More Flavour, Model Resistant and Strong Aroma. If we get these items right, then we can hopefully get PNG known for being a high-quality vanilla exporter.’

Growing markets

When people think about vanilla-producing countries, explains Edmiston, Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti are usually the first three places they name. ‘These countries are putting a lot of marketing to grow these industries.’

Native Vanilla, which is exporting around eight to nine tons of vanilla a year, is up against big global exporters that have backing from their governments, Edmiston explains. Despite the challenge, the company has grown about 40 per cent in one year and is currently exporting Papuan vanilla to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Italy and South Africa.

‘We exclusively sell PNG vanilla and have created our own PNG branded beans that we export. There is more demand than supply, so we believe that vanilla can continue to support farmers for a long time to come.’

Edmiston and his team will expand operations to France and Germany before the end of 2019. ‘We have had such an amazing response and support from customers around the world with what we are doing. PNG vanilla is also world class which makes selling it easier!’

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