The End of Chocolate?
A massive amount consisting of 3.5 million tonnes of cocoa is produced every year. Over the past 100 years the chocolate confectionery market has steadily grown into an $80 billion a year global industry. However, it’s not looking like this will last very long. It’s been forecasted that within the next 6 years there will be a 30% growth in demand, meaning that more than 4.5 million tonnes will need to be produced every year. With the cocoa industry looking how it is right now, meeting that demand just does not seem plausible.
You see, it’s just not in most cocoa farmers’ interests to grow cacao trees. Cacao is grown on millions of small and medium-sized family run farms around the world. But these families face challenges. To begin with it’s a time-consuming crop that they don’t get sufficient value from. Farmers in West Africa earn 60% less than they did in the 1980s, while manufacturers’ and retailers’ profits have increased. These low profits lead to low productivity in farming communities as farmers are unable to invest in modern farming methods or even fertilizers. Pest and disease is a massive problem for cacao trees, however these smallholdings are unlikely to be able to afford to treat their crops.
Many are switching to more lucrative crops such as rubber and palm oil, which are also easier to grow and maintain. With cacao trees taking 4-5 years to develop harvestable beans there is little incentive for farmers to begin new plantations, which all points towards a worldwide cocoa shortage. So what does that mean for chocolate?
Well, many large companies are already making their bars smaller and hoping you won’t notice. For example, Cadburys have made their Dairy Milk squares rounded, meaning there’s actually been 4g less chocolate in those bars since 2012. Obviously, they didn’t bother to change their retail prices… But soon they’ll also have to start reducing the amount of cocoa in their bars and bulking them out with other ingredients such as sugar, hoping the sweeter taste will disguise the lack of cocoa, as well as raisins and nougat. They’ll also be looking for cocoa butter alternatives, such as mixes of shea and palm oil. Though any bar using that mix in the US must be labelled as a chocolate flavored product. So it doesn’t really look like chocolate will be chocolate in the future. Angus Kennedy, a chocolate enthusiast, tried a future chocolate bar and found it to be very different. As more vegetable fat is used to replace the cocoa there won’t be that snap we’re used to from our chocolate, instead it will have a whole different texture, the word Kennedy uses is “sludgy”. That does not sound at all appealing to me.
There is a bright side to this though, believe it or not. This cocoa shortage only really applies to confectionery that gets its cocoa beans from unsustainable farms. It’s the farmers who supply the major chocolate companies’ beans that aren’t making a profit and are often supported by unsustainable practices. However, bean-to-bar chocolate relies on and is supported by farms that the manufacturers have a close working relationship with. Those farmers know they’re getting their moneys worth for their crop and are encouraged to produce high quality and distinctive beans. The bean-to-bar industry is thriving as people learn to appreciate the difference between a mass-produced bar and one which has had individual time and effort put into bringing out a unique flavor and taste. Many articles reporting on the cocoa bean shortage highlights the fact that chocolate may soon become an expensive luxury item, whilst completely ignoring the fact that when done right a good chocolate bar should be worth $8 rather than $2. We all know that you get what you pay for and obviously food should be of a high quality for consumption.
Chocolate should be delicious, healthy and created from sustainable sources. It should also be supported by a network of people who love what they do and want to make the best chocolate they can. Which is why the bean-to-bar industry is an amazing effort to combat the bland, cheap candy that is dominating the market. So I’m not worried about a cocoa shortage, if anything it should help people to realise that the cheap candy they would normally buy isn’t really chocolate and that there is a flourishing trade that highlights the amazing versatility of the cocoa bean.Photo credit: Woodblock Chocolate