But Its Key Ingredient Grows on Trees!
That’s true but we still have a big problem. Chocolate is made from the fruit of the cacao tree, the rather confusingly named cocoa bean. The trees only grow in hot, wet tropical conditions. They are slow producers: a corn farmer can turn out three crops a year but cacao trees take three to five years to generate their first crop. And they’re delicate and easily damaged by sun and wind, as well as by pests and diseases which destroy up to 40% of each year’s global crop.
Tell Me More
Cocoa production is not a corporate affair; 90% of it comes from six million subsistence farmers on tiny landholdings. It’s an extremely hard way to make a living and as a result many farmers have switched to more profitable crops.
Any More Problems?
Unfortunately, yes. Around 60% of all cocoa comes from the West African nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana, where ongoing dry weather and decades of civil unrest (Ivory Coast) have damaged crops and affected output. Meanwhile our global consumption of the sweet treat is increasing, led by rising Chinese chocolate consumption and a wider switch to darker, more cocoa-heavy styles.
What’s the Bottom Line?
As recently as 2000 there was such a cocoa glut that prices hit a 27-year low. But by 2012 demand had outstripped supply, forcing chocolate manufacturers to rely on stored beans. Prices rose accordingly and by the second half of 2015 cocoa was fetching well over four times its 2000 price. With demand still increasing, experts predict we’ll hit crisis point by 2020.
“In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.” Nature Conservation Research Council founder John Mason in 2010
What Happens Then?
Chocolate is likely to become ever more expensive while product sizes shrink. Manufacturers may also pad out their products with other ingredients.
By the Numbers
Increase in per-capita chocolate consumption in China since 2012:
Per-capita chocolate consumption in China in 2014 (latest available data):
Per-capita chocolate consumption in the US in 2014 (latest available data):
Per-capita chocolate consumption in Australia in 2014 (latest available data):
Per-capita chocolate consumption in Switzerland in 2014 (latest available data):
Got Any Good News?
Yes. Research is underway to develop hardier trees producing bigger yields while still making tasty chocolate (a tricky balance). At the same time, Fairtrade arrangements are improving the lives of the small farmers on whom the industry depends, increasing their income and helping them replace old trees and equipment, thus keeping them in business and encouraging others to join them.