Well known as a tried and tested anti-depressant, chocolate in its various forms is for many people the holy grail of desserts and coffee breaks. As Europeans are the world’s highest consumers of chocolate, we are at risk of a shortage between now and 2020 or 2030, according to experts. We don’t have enough theobroma cacoa (cocoa trees) to meet our annual consumption each year. This is notably because our addiction is getting bigger, because of deforestation, because cocoa is being replaced by other types of crops, because of urban sprawl and because of climate change. We need to save the cocoa tree! But how?
The diverse causes of a probable chocolate shortage
The cocoa tree is difficult to grow because it needs 1.5 to 2.5 meters of rain per year, and it only grows around the equator, mainly in Africa but also in South America and Asia. After a tree is planted, you need to wait 4 years to obtain cocoa beans, which has led to these high maintenance trees being replaced by other more profitable crops, such as the Para rubber tree, for its rubber.
The demand for cocoa is outweighing supply, because of global warming and climate change, the destruction and replacement of the trees by other more profitable crops, but also because of urban sprawl and soil being treated. Cocoa is therefore becoming more rare and more expensive, which could lead to a global chocolate shortage if efforts are not made to preserve the crops.
According to an article which appeared French newspaper “Libération”, in a chart produced by the the International Cocoa Organisation, 1,812 million tons of cocoa are consumed by Europeans alone every year, although the main global producer of cocoa, the Ivory Coast, produce only 1,714 million tons in the same time frame. The supply is therefore weaker than the demand, which is continuously growing.
According to the International Cocoa Organisation, the price of a ton of cocoa beans went from $1500 to $3500 between November 2006 and February 2011, a space of just 5 years. On the 25th November 2016, the price was estimated at $2450 per ton. The price of cocoa butter more than doubled between 2005 and 2015, also according to the International Cocoa Organisation.
In 2014, the chocolate giants Mars and Barry Callebaut confirmed that stocks had never been as low in the previous 50 years. Furthermore, new countries are becoming bigger and bigger consumers of chocolate every year, such as China.
In certain European countries, the lower morale is, the more chocolate we eat. Sales are rising all over. Maybe we should start to worry….
Sneaky techniques to hide the increases in the price of cocoa
The large chocolate manufacturers have for several years resorted to sly strategies to reduce the levels of cocoa in their products.
The famous brand Toblerone, which hadn’t changed the look of its bars for more than a century, changed the shape of their bars to reduce the weight. The classic bar went from 170 g to 150 g, but the price stayed the same, officially to avoid passing on raised cocoa prices to the consumer. However, the customer will probably end up buying more, because the bars are smaller.
Barry Callebaut to the rescue: a real effort, or just marketing?
Antoine Saint-Affrique, the director general of leading Swiss chocolate makers Barry Callebaut, announced their new development strategy at the end of November 2016, from then until 2025, called “Forever Chocolate”.
Despite the group’s efforts, only 23% of their cocoa beans came from sustainable programs at the early stages, but they have committed to change and have resolved to produce a 100% sustainable type of chocolate by 2025. The global leader’s new sustainable development project has four principal objectives:
- end child labour in the chain of production
- help 500,000 cocoa producers to emerge from poverty
- reduce their carbon impact, especially in the forests
- use 100% sustainable ingredients in all their products!
We can only hope that the largest cocoa producers will continue to help the smaller ones, by looking after their cocoa trees so they can continue to live from their labour.
In terms of consumers, or ‘consumactors’, it is up to us to choose “sustainable chocolate” and to raise awareness in our social circles.
Ask yourself if you could imagine a world without chocolate?