Business

How Bad Is the World’s Chocolate Problem?

Recent headlines about the declining fortunes of cocoa producers are making chocolate lovers a bit uneasy. But there's reassurance from cocoa industry groups, who say they are working to ensure chocolate production meets the demand of the world's collective sweet tooth for years to come.

Chocolate is one of the most beloved treats in the world, and cocoa producers have been struggling to keep up with growing consumer demand.

Mark Schatzker reported in Bloomberg last week that, at current rates, the demand for cocoa will exceed supply by 1 million metric tons by 2020. Such predictions have led to efforts to develop and perfect new production methods and new breeds of cocoa.

Schatzker notes that improving production efficiency might come at a big cost—a loss of flavor and possibly the addition of more fillers, everything from nougat to flavor chemicals.

That may worry you as you reach for your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or Snickers bar, but is the scary prediction overhyped? Here’s a reassuring take on the issue from a notable trade association:

Not as bad as it looks: In comments to USA Today, the International Cocoa Organization, which forecasts cocoa supply, said the Bloomberg report overplays the chocolate industry’s challenges. “What we’re looking at is a very tight close relationship between production and consumption,” said ICO spokesman Michael Segal. “There might be a small, fairly insignificant deficit or a small, fairly insignificant surplus.”

Problems at the source: On the other hand, if you go to the source of chocolate production, you might find a different story. In key cocoa-producing countries, such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana, many cocoa plants are getting replaced by more-profitable plants such as rubber trees. The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a group that advocates for ethical working conditions for cocoa farmers, told the French newspaper Les Echos that cocoa farms need help modernizing. “They’re still poor, and an estimated 350,000 children are working in plantations,” said Robalé Kagohi, ICI’s Ivory Coast program coordinator, according to an English translation of the article, published on WorldCrunch. “Farmers continue to do all the work with machetes. Nothing has changed in 50 years.”

Working on sustainability: Earlier this year, 12 companies joined forces for CocoaAction, a strategy coordinated by the World Chocolate Foundation to encourage sustainability by fighting diseases that endanger chocolate crops, raising living and education standards for farmers, and improving production efficiency. “This alignment of objectives, commitment of resources, and sharing of best practices is the type of transformative initiative that will really help farmers become more productive and secure the future of cocoa,” Barry Parkin, WCF chairman and chief sustainability officer of Mars, Inc., said in a May news release [PDF]. “While it represents a new way for the industry to work with origin countries, it also builds on the strong existing relationships with them. We are honored and proud to move these relationships to a significant next step.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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