I have been traveling with my family through Asia for the last five months, visiting South East Asia and India (our trip blog is here). While a lot of the trip is an exploration of traveling with a young family, there is also a good focus on peppercorns from Cambodia as well as India. We had heard about Kampot peppercorns before we left on our journey and so while we were in Cambodia we visited a Kampot peppercorn plantation. Wow! Were they ever tasty! We were instantly enchanted by the peppercorns’ enticing aroma and sunny, full bodied flavours. Inspired, we decided to focus part of our travels on these world class peppercorns.
We spent a month in the South Indian city of Kochi – the spice capital of the world – and during that time I attended the International Spice Conference in Goa. The conference took place from January 21st to 24th, with more than 500 delegates from 35 countries. Many of the delegates were growers and processors, including household names like McCormick.
Decoding Spices in the 21st Century
The title of the conference was Decoding Spices in the 21st Century and key discussions focused on topics such as regulations, prices, contaminants, managing customer expectations and farm management. Interestingly, at the global level, the two signature spices with a universal appeal are pepper and vanilla. This helps explain why peppercorns have such an important place in the pantheon of spices. In fact, an entire day of the conference was devoted to crops and half of the discussion about crops focused on peppercorns. Below is a summary of overall flavouring trends and specific insights related to peppercorns.
Overall Trends and Insights
There were some big names from the flavour industry and it was fascinating to hear their insights on where the industry is headed. Of note, according to Jean Mane, President and CEO of V Mane Fils, trends that will shape the flavour industry in the next few years are:
- Food needs to be good for consumers. There is massive interest in organic foods, with no sugars or colourings.
- Consumers want to save the planet. Consumers want to understand the journey from farm to table. They demand that companies have clear corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies around issues such as child labour and the environment.
- Consumers demand convenience and food on-the-go. Only about half of eating experiences are in the format of formal meals. The rest are snacks, expected to be convenient and loaded with flavours.
- Consumers are testing new flavours in conjunction with older, more familiar flavours. Think spicy chilli chocolate, avocado ice cream, etc.
Global Peppercorn Trends
Last year, world peppercorn production was approximately 450,000 tons. Global demand typically increases by 2% per year. India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China and Brazil account for about 90% of global production. In 2015, India and Indonesia had weak crop yields, largely the result of the “El Nino” effect, which led to water shortages. Global peppercorn stocks are at historic lows and, not surprisingly, peppercorn prices are at an all time high, around $11,000 per ton (black pepper). Many expect global peppercorn stocks and prices to return to normal levels in the medium term.
The Interplay Between Food Trends and Peppercorns
An interesting issue that arose during the conference was the interplay between peppercorns and food and flavour trends. As consumers eat more snacks and demand a more flavourful experience, pepper, organically and responsibly grown, emerges as a popular contender for enriching consumers’ eating experiences. Pepper ticks a lot of the boxes: healthy, with no sugars or colourings; sustainably grown from environmental and social perspectives; loaded with flavour; and easy to serve in new and different combinations (e.g., pepper ice cream, pepper chocolate, etc.).
The conclusions should be just as relevant for the Americas: North American participants in the conference all seemed to be nodding their heads in agreement throughout the discussions.
If you have any questions about peppercorns, please feel free to contact Nigel directly through his blog.