The past year has signalled some major changes in the global chocolate supply, and the future indicates a massive transformation in how chocolate is grown and produced around the world. Let’s look at the state of chocolate. 

A Brief History of Chocolate Production

Although chocolate is a New World crop, originating in South and Central America, it became incredibly popular in 17th and 18th century Europe. Cocoa was so valuable that European countries began growing it in their African colonies, which had a suitable climate for cocoa cultivation.

Today, virtually all major cocoa cultivation takes place in Africa, with the exception of Indonesia, which exported 850,000 tons of cocoa in 2009. The Cote D’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa exporter, at more than 2 million tons annually, and accounting for 40% of the country’s export revenue. Altogether, the global market value of cocoa beans was over 8.6B USD in 2017, and 60% of the world’s cocoa beans come from Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.

Cocoa Pods

The Ethics of Chocolate

Cocoa is a slow-growing crop, with a much longer production cycle than most. New hybrid plants need over five years before they can be harvested, and cocoa trees take 10-15 years to reach full production. In recent years, many people have raised ethical concerns about cocoa production, including:

  • Environmental impact. In countries that rely on cocoa as a cash crop, it is a significant cause of deforestation and habitat destruction. 
  • Exploitation. Because growers have to invest so heavily in cocoa for so long before they can harvest it, they are extremely vulnerable to market forces and fluctuations. A small number of companies control the global chocolate market, leaving smaller farmers who are heavily invested few options for where and how to trade their crops. Investigations have also revealed exploitive labor practices in cocoa, including forced labor and child labor. 
  • Legacy of colonialism. There is increased awareness of the unethical history of wealthy countries using poorer countries as a source of raw materials, and depleting their environment and natural resources. 
Cocoa imported to Brazil from Côte d'Ivoire
Cocoa imported to Brazil from Côte d’Ivoire

The Future of Chocolate

Recent years have brought these historic concerns into much sharper focus. The EU, US, and other countries are increasingly concerned about the sourcing, stability, and security of the raw materials they require. As consumers demand responsibility, transparency, and quality throughout the supply chain, global companies are forced to re-examine their practices.

At the same time, countries in Africa are seeking to stabilize their economies and retain more of their wealth by reducing their exports of raw materials. Ghana in particular has stated the intention of further developing their own cocoa processing industries and retaining more of the value of their annual harvest. 

In 2019, Ghana and the Cote D’Ivoire briefly halted all sale of cocoa to the United States over a dispute about farmer bonuses. Trade was restored when the bonuses were paid, but it was the second time in two years that US manufacturers had to concede to cocoa producer’s demands. 

In 2020, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo visited Switzerland, the first African leader invited to the country in 60 years. During the visit, he announced to the Federal Council of Switzerland that Ghana “no longer wants to be dependent on the production and export of raw materials”, and intends to transition to processing cocoa domestically. 

It remains to be seen what effect these changes may have on the global chocolate supply market. However, there is a tremendous opportunity for African countries to begin exporting chocolate that is as ethical, sustainable, traceable, and responsible as today’s consumers expect. 

At Grapefrute we have vast experience in finding technical specialists for upstream processing of cocoa and the downstream processing of semi-finished and finished chocolate products. Do you need to expand or optimise your cocoa & chocolate operations? Contact us today.