A chocolate shortage?

There has been a lot of news recently regarding the world chocolate shortage. Some sources are stating that there will be a 1 million MT deficit in chocolate by 2020. The ICCO denies that projection, adding that this year actually showed a 40,000 MT surplus of chocolate.

A few factors certainly could contribute to a shortage of chocolate overall in the world. Note the emphasis on overall. If we’re to take the chocolate shortage claims seriously, we must include all the factors that could contribute. According to All Day, those factors could include:

  • Environmental factors: frosty pod and dry weather in West Africa
  • Health & political factors: shutting borders between Liberia & Guinea with the Ivory Coast due to Ebola
  • Local economic factors: farmers choosing rubber instead of cacao, and farmers are aging but the younger generation has not indicated its interest in continuing to farm cacao
  • Global economic factors: increased demand in China & India: by 29%
  • Global demand factors: consumers are interested in darker chocolate, which has a higher cacao percentage

As a result of the increase in demand and decrease in supply, there are a few consequences that also could contribute to a reduction of chocolate in our lives:

  • Prices: prices would go up (basic economics), making chocolate less accessible to the general population
  • GMOs: Chocolate companies are working on synthetic cacao trees, which would be more resistant to disease but less complex in their taste
  • Chocolate substitutes: Chocolate makers may begin filling their products with more nuts, fruits, etc. rather than providing straight chocolate

Now let’s take a step back and think about how that affects bean-to-bar makers who engage in direct trade or fair trade with the farmers who produce the cacao…

The bottom line is: very little!

Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fair Trade International, writes her solution to this potential shortage in The Guardian:

To prevent a chocolate shortage, farmers need to earn a better income now… This is the critical next leap that the chocolate sector needs to make. We need to pay farmers more for their cocoa today if we want to keep them farming for tomorrow. Our very chocolate depends on it.

In other words, small batch chocolate-makers like Askinosie and SpagNvola are already working in this way and will be less affected by a potential shortage. It’s the large chocolate companies that produce chocolate in bulk who need to learn from their bean-to-bar peers. In fact, those with branch-to-bar strategies are even more convincing. If the chocolate-makers absorb a higher percentage of the cost, then farmers will be better paid and more highly incentivized to produce the best cacao they can.

There are a few caveats. This policy could end up increasing the cost of chocolate to the consumer. If so, it could lose one of the principles of Slow Food: though it would be fair to the farmer, it would not necessarily be accessible to the average consumer. Additionally, as long as the new consumers in China and India could pay for it, this policy would not quite address the increase in demand. That said, most of the bean-to-bar market already focuses on higher-end consumers, providing a higher quality product at a higher price point than mainstream chocolate bars.

So, should the conscientious bean-to-bar chocolate-maker worry about a chocolate shortage? Our answer: just a little bit. And at the same time, take advantage of this new opportunity to share the practices that could alleviate a shortage in the future and simultaneously support the farmers!

To read more about the potential chocolate shortage, see the articles below:

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Chocolate Labels, Part 2

“Organic”

“Local”

“Single Origin”

“Fair Trade”

“Rainforest Alliance”

“UTZ”

“Direct Trade”

What do these all mean and which ones should you pay attention to when you’re choosing your chocolate? Good question! Some relate to labor practices, others relate to the environmental circumstances surrounding the farming.

If you’re just joining us, check out Chocolate Labels, Part 1, where we discuss Organic, Local, and Single Origin labels. You can also take a look at previous posts, here at Root Chocolate, where we cover what happens before the cocoa beans are ready to be made into chocolate: we’ve discussed where cacao farmers fit into the picture, the complications of importing cocoa beans, the benefits of slowing down our interaction with food, and the importance of supply chain, and the relevance of genetics.

Now let’s talk about the external certifications that can factor into your decisions around chocolate purchases and consumption. I’m not going to claim that one certification is better than another or that any one of these means your chocolate is sustainably produced and sourced, but let’s go into what each of them mean.

Fair Trade

This label certifies that the farmers and workers involved in creating the product are fairly compensated for their work and have favorable working conditions. The specifics of this definition differ across agencies and can, like organic certification, entail costly and time-intensive processes to adhere to. That said, the theory behind fair trade is a positive one.

For chocolate, fair trade mandates a minimum price for cocoa beans and includes components of community development and direct trade. The first chocolate bar to have the label, “fair trade” was Green & Black’s Maya Gold in 1994.

To read more about fair trade chocolate, check out the sites below:

Rainforest Alliance

“The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields.” The Rainforst Alliance certifications confirm that particular products are farmed and produced in a way that protects rainforest environments. Again, the cost of obtaining and maintaining this certification can be high for small farmers, but Rainforest Alliance is working to provide mutual benefit to the rainforests and the farmers.

Their work with cacao has involved supporting farmer communities by training them to conserve natural resources, protecting land and waterways by teaching farmers practices that conserve their land and plants while also productively harvesting cacao, and finally improving incomes by connecting farmers to markets that are willing to pay higher prices for certified chocolate.

To learn more, visit these sites:

UTZ

UTZ certification is specific to coffee, cocoa, and tea and was started in the late 1990s. UTZ-certified coffee, cocoa, and tea follow a set of guidelines that take a big-picture view of social, environmental, and economic issues. The Codes of Conduct require better farming methods, better working conditions, better care for nature, and better care for future generations. As a result, UTZ certification pushes toward better crops, better income, better environment, and a better life.

To learn more, check out these sites:

Direct Trade

The simplest definition of direct trade is when a chocolate-maker buys cocoa beans directly from a cacao farmer. Some say this method is the most fair and sustainable – better than fair trade certification (which costs the farmers money). However, it does not necessarily account for the environment or the complications that arise from importing beans directly from cacao farmers. Some recent articles from Yes Magazine and Relevant Magazine go into more depth on the subject of direct trade for cocoa beans.

In January of 2012, a group of chocolate-makers, cacao farmers, and chocolate industry gurus visited Honduran Island, Guanaja, and founded the membership-only group, Direct Cacao, which is dedicated to giving “a voice to chocolate makers, chocolatiers, independent tasters and other in the chocolate industry working with and supporting directly sourced fine cacao, and to the cacao growers supplying the cacao.”

For more information on some of the chocolate makers who use direct trade, check out the links below:


As you can tell, there are many labels and many options. Make your own informed decision about what makes you feel connected to the root of your chocolate and other food!

For more articles on these and other labels that could affect your consumer chocolate choices, check out the links below:

Chocolate Labels, Part 1

“Organic”

“Local”

“Single Origin”

“Fair Trade”

“Rainforest Alliance”

“UTZ”

“Direct Trade”

What do these all mean and which ones should you pay attention to when you’re choosing your chocolate? Good question! Some relate to labor practices, others relate to the environmental circumstances surrounding the farming.

Here at Root Chocolate, we’ve discussed where cacao farmers fit into the picture, the complications of importing cocoa beans, the benefits of slowing down our interaction with food, and the importance of supply chain, and the relevance of genetics. Now let’s talk about the external certifications that can factor into your decisions around chocolate purchases and consumption.

I’m not going to claim that one certification is better than another or that any one of these means your chocolate is sustainably produced and sourced, but let’s go into what each of them mean.

Organic

“The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.” Read more about the definition on the National Organic Program page of the USDA.

There are quite a few regulations involved in obtaining and maintaining this certification, including fees, inspections, and a waiting period, among others. The processes can be onerous for very small family farms, which is where most fine chocolate is grown. That said, many small farms refrain from using expensive pesticides and are considered “de facto” organic, even if they do not have official certification.

Learn more about organic chocolate and organic processes here:

Local

Eating local chocolate is a difficult concept for those of us who do not live within 20 degrees of the equator. Cocoa beans traditionally come from tropical places close to the equator. The only US state that naturally produces cacao is Hawaii. For chocolate to truly be local, its beans must grow in the same place as the chocolate production, which would all be the same place as the consumer taking that delicious bite of chocolate. You can find truly local chocolate at a few places, including the following:

Alternatively, you can buy chocolate from local chocolate-makers, even though the cocoa beans may come from halfway around the world. For example, if you live in Portland, Oregon, buy local chocolate from Cocanu, Woodblock, Treehouse Chocolate, Pitch Dark, or Mana Chocolate.

Single Origin

Single origin chocolate is another label that you may find on your favorite chocolate bar. This means that the cocoa beans that constitute the bar you’re eating all come from the same country. They may even come from the same region or co-op or farm, but those parts are not guaranteed. Remember that the genetics vary even within the same cocoa pod? Well, there’s also wide variety among beans from a single country, not to mention region.

Valhrona made this concept popular more than two decades ago. The trend is still going strong! In fact, one of our favorite chocolate-makers, Dandelion, makes purely single origin bars. The logic behind single origin bars comes from the concept of terrior, borrowed from the wine industry. Beans take on a flavor based on the environment in which they grew, fermented, and dried.

Learn more about single origin chocolate here:

Look for Chocolate Labels, Part 2, coming out later this week, where we’ll go into depth about Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and Direct Trade!