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Heilala offers the world’s first sustainable vanilla

When it comes to sustainability, the first thing that comes to mind might not be the vanilla extract that sits in your kitchen cupboard and has been around since childhood. However, when you consider it more, vanilla is added to many items we like to eat, from cookies and cakes to ice cream and yogurt.

Founded in 2002, Heilala Vanilla has quickly become the top choice for Michelin-starred chefs and home bakers due to its excellent flavor. Now, the company is excited to announce its latest achievement: becoming the world’s first B Corp certified vanilla company. This milestone is especially notable considering that within the entire baking industry, only 10% of companies have achieved B Corp status.

What started as an aid project based in New Zealand is now used by chefs at Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Panna Cafe Ice Cream NYC, Birdies Austin and more. While vanilla is often thought of as boring, bland and plain, Heilala’s vanilla products are described as complex, rich and full of flavour. The unrefined, artisanal and highly scientific process brings innovation to the old-school vanilla industry.

The company got B Corp establishing a unique zero-waste process, paying the team living wages, investing in impact projects in Tonga for over a decade and providing employment along with access to running water, housing and education to its employees and their rural communities. Heilala is also committed to being carbon neutral by 2025.

Jennifer Boggiss is the CEO and co-founder of Heilala Vanilla. Before founding the company, he was an accountant. “I was always good at accounting, so I fell into the career after college,” he says. “It was enough to pay the bills, but I still felt like something was missing. I spent a lot of time searching for my calling in life, a purpose-driven path that I felt most passionate about. I made status boards encouragement and even visited a clairvoyant to help guide me on this journey!

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Fortunately, at the same time, his father established a vanilla plantation in Vava’u, Tonga as part of a relief project after the cyclone that hit the island nation in 2002. Seeing his experience , Boggiss became interested. Then, when she and her husband visited, they fell in love with the people and the islands. They decided to expand on what their father had started by creating a vanilla brand that not only excited them, but also benefited the South Pacific community. “I had found my purpose, which was right in front of me: to empower and impact rural producer communities in the Kingdom of Tonga,” says Boggiss.

The journey has been all-consuming, Boggiss says, with “a new obstacle to face every day.” But he finds it very satisfying to see Heilala being used in some of the world’s best restaurants and by home chefs as well. Above all, the best reward for Boggiss is knowing that a group of people in the South Pacific will continue to receive financial support and opportunities that they might not otherwise have had because of his company.

The Covid pandemic was a particular challenge. Heilala lost a third of its revenue in a 72-hour period when restaurants closed worldwide. The business adapted quickly, however, and even managed to grow over the next two years. People were stuck at home with nothing to do but cook! In addition, Heilala diversified the products into a line of hand wash, dish soap and a surface spray, all with its characteristic vanilla aroma.

In addition, Boggiss and the leadership team realized that this was the time to obtain B Corp certification. As a result, Heilala continued to support local vanilla communities with classroom supplies, sports equipment and school fee assistance. Unfortunately, Tonga was devastated by another recent tsunami that affected all parts of the nation. In response to this natural disaster, Heilala Vanilla raised over $100,000 to support communities after the crisis.

To people looking to align their career with their life purpose, Boggiss says, “Be brave enough to face head-on what isn’t working in your career and take proactive steps to change. I had a secure career as accountant, but looking at spreadsheets and forecasts just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Find something that excites you to get out of bed in the morning. There will always be high hurdles and difficult situations to overcome, but as long as you have a strong sense of purpose that anchors you, that drive will continue to propel you forward.”

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