Grapevine Helps Heilala Celebrate Ten Years Since The First Vanilla Harvest

Food Pr Melbourne

It all started when John Ross was gifted a parcel of land by the Chief of the Utungake community, in Vava’u, Kingdom Tonga to thank him for the work he had done to help rebuild after a cyclone destroyed the village.

John was a keen sailor and spear fisherman who had been visiting the remote unspoilt Vavau Islands and after the devastation of cyclone Waka in 2002, John rounded up everyone he knew – from carpenters to builders, electricians and just handy friends, to come to the remote region and help the people of Tonga to rebuild their lives.

In return, the village Chief gifted John a parcel of land and asked him to ensure that whatever he did with the land helped to create employment for the local people, as there was little primary industry in the Tongan region. Being so remote, even today’s tourism is limited.

After much research, John decided that a vanilla plantation was the perfect crop, although delicate and hard to grow, it was perfectly suited to the weather conditions as vanilla only grows well 20 degrees either side of the equator.

After three years of cultivation, the first vanilla harvest bore just 40kgs of fragile Bourbon-variety vanilla beans which were later dried and sold to chefs who raved about the rich quality and distinct flavour of that first yield. As Heilala’s reputation grew, the company began ‘value-adding’ to the commodity to create a vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, vanilla syrup, vanilla sugar, and most recently a ground vanilla bean powder and cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil.

Today the entire community of Vava’u has prospered as the reputation of their vanilla pods has filtered as far as Attica, Cutler & Co, Movida and Huxtable.

Grapevine is privileged to be commissioned to help celebrate Heilala’s ten year anniversary through a media outreach campaign working with Australian food media in the lead up to Christmas, a critical time of year for avid bakers and leading chefs alike.