A Tongan community is set to benefit from a new charitable foundation set up by New Zealand’s premium vanilla grower and producer.
Award-winning Heilala Vanilla has launched the Heilala Vanilla Foundation to build on its already strong ties with the island community of Vava’u.
The partnership between Heilala Vanilla and the people of Vava’u began as an aid project 10 years ago, helping to rebuild after a cyclone. This initial act of kindness by Heilala Vanilla founder John Ross, led to the founding of Heilala Vanilla.
Jennifer Boggiss, Heilala Vanilla director, says establishing the foundation shows that Heilala Vanilla’s commitment to the people of Vava’u extends beyond the vanilla plantation.
“Heilala was established on the principles of fair trade,” Jennifer says. “We support livelihoods, and the people of Vava’u are an integral part of our business. Because the island of Vava’u is quite remote and access to educational resources and equipment can be limited, the Heilala Vanilla Foundation aims to offer practical assistance in the key areas of education and health.”
Heilala Vanilla will contribute a percentage of sales of vanilla beans grown and exported from Vava’u, and some funds from other sources, to the foundation.
The Heilala Vanilla Foundation’s first official project will be working with Vava’u High School. Jennifer recently met with the principal of Vava’u High School, Sela Tapaatoutai-Teisina, to discuss their immediate requirements.
The principal and her team identified the Home Economics Department as the first priority, and compiled a list of equipment needed. This includes cookware, kitchen appliances and sewing equipment. The next project will be equipment and teaching materials for the school’s science department.
“The school’s Home Economics Department comprises one broken oven, one bench and a very limited number of utensils,” says Jennifer. “The teacher has incredible passion for teaching her students food preparation and the nutritional properties of food.
“Obviously Home Economics has a great synergy with Heilala Vanilla and we see the incredible importance of working with young people in Tonga. Food is a central part of their community so it would be great to bring new food preparation techniques to the students that they can take home to their families.”
Heilala’s first vanilla harvest in 2005 was 40kg; last year the company harvested nearly five tonnes and now exports its products to six countries. Jennifer says the long-term goal of the company is to make Tonga globally synonymous with premium vanilla.
“We want Heilala Vanilla to be to Tonga what Fiji Water is to Fiji. In other words, our aim is to put this tiny South Pacific nation in the minds of foodies everywhere,” she says.
“Over the last two years we have gained a number of new export markets and are well on our way to our mission to become a globally recognised premium vanilla brand. Our most recent new market is Japan, where our importer is placing Heilala Vanilla into retail stores and co-branding Heilala Vanilla in cake and biscuit ranges. A café was recently opened in the old Tokyo Post Office Building and Heilala Vanilla has a glass cabinet display along with a bar serving Heilala Vanilla Syrup on waffles.”
After three years of research and cultivation of vanilla plants, Heilala Vanilla’s first crop won instant praise from foodies and celebrity chefs such as Peter Gordon, and several awards. The Vanilla Paste was runner-up in Cuisine Magazine’s Artisan Awards two years ago. That same year Heilala Vanilla won two categories at the NZ Food Awards with their Vanilla Syrup. The previous year the Vanilla Paste won the coveted Gourmet Award at the NZ Food Awards. And last year, the Heilala Vanilla Syrup won the Confectionary Award at the Australian Food Magazine Awards.
To find out more about the Heilala Vanilla Foundation and the product range visit www.heilalavanillafoundation.org.nz.