In an ideal world, supply and demand are in a constant state of balance – and if the demand for a particular essential oil crop increases, for example, producers would be able to increase their yields to allow for that.
But in practice of course, essential oil crops are a natural resource that must be grown, harvested and processed well in advance of the market demand curve, and are subject to outside influences that can raise the risk of a shortage of essential oils in any given year.
Here are some of those factors and how they can cause a shortage of essential oil crops and other natural flavour and fragrance ingredients.
Weather conditions can have a huge impact on essential oil crop yields, with drought and disasters potentially wiping out entire crops.
This is a particular problem for essential oil crops that are only grown in a very specific part of the world, and the solutions are limited – you can grow in locations that are normally quite stable, look to similar flavour and fragrance ingredients from elsewhere, and consider artificial aroma chemicals during shortages.
Again, as a natural product, essential oil crops are at risk of blights and diseases just as food crops are, and producers will do their best to protect crops against any such threats.
This is balanced out by a desire to avoid using pesticides and insecticides when producing a natural or organic essential oil, so again the effectiveness of those solutions can often be reduced.
From clever marketing, to social networking, to pure random chance, there are endless influences that can cause a particular essential oil to explode in popularity over the course of a single growing season.
Because of the innate lag time involved in growing, harvesting and processing a natural product, it can take another season for supplies to catch up – leading to a shortage of essential oils during the early part of their peak popularity.
It’s an unfortunate fact that some essential oils inevitably cost more, leading to them being used in fewer products or being limited to the high-end market.
An example of this is Oud, distilled from Agarwood, as only small quantities of the oil are harvested, ideally from trees that are several decades old – a much longer lead time than just a single seasonal cycle to catch up with demand.
Finally, we’ve already mentioned organic essential oils and scarce oils like Oud, but a host of farming methods can cause essential oil crop yields to be lower or the finished aroma ingredients to be more expensive.
These include crops like vanilla that are very labour intensive to pollinate and harvest, plus factors like organic farming methods that prevent the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides to protect the crop.