In a 2018 volume of Perfumer & Flavorist, John B. Hallagan and Joana Drake of The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States warned that the combination of reduced vanilla supplies and increased public awareness about possible litigation will result in an increased number of lawsuits over whether or not vanilla is contained within goods advertised as such. In fact, as they note, “Over the last several years, class-action lawsuits involving some aspect of alleged false advertising of food products has become one of the fastest growing areas in class litigation.”
A major reason behind the increase in artificial vanilla flavoring is the shortage of natural vanilla. NPR reported in 2017 of a vanilla shortage. The issue was that for a long time, producing vanilla was too labor-intensive to be worth the petty price it commanded, so farms disbanded. Then, around 2014, Nestle and Hershey’s decided to make all of their vanilla products naturally sourced, thus creating a demand that far outpaced the previously meager supply. This affects prices in turn. Where once a gallon of vanilla would cost $64, by 2017 it almost quadrupled to $245.
The flip in vanilla’s fortunes means that without large amounts of cash like Nestle or Hershey’s, you either have to reduce the amount of vanilla used or substitute it with vanilla flavoring. But not as many people would buy vanilla-flavored ice cream cones from McDonald’s, would they?