Cocoa Beware

“Chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays.” – anonymous

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles M. Schultz, Peanuts creator

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Over the past few months, I’ve seen alarming headlines warning about a looming shortage or a looming price hike of some of my favourite food items: bacon, wild-caught fish… even Velveeta cheese (don’t judge me, it’s an occasional guilty pleasure!). But none of these bits of news struck me quite the way the cocoa headlines have hit me.

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Apparently, cocoa supplies are headed for the longest production shortfall in more than five decades. There are two things going on here: demand is soaring while supply is down because of a shortage of precious cocoa beans in West Africa, which supplies most (70%) of the world with this brown gold.

So why are more people suddenly clamouring for more chocolate? You can thank scientific study after study that suggests chocolate, especially the higher quality dark variety, has a slew of health benefits from protecting your heart to fighting stress. But according to experts, the bulk of the “new” chocolate consumers are in Asia and other emerging parts of the world, and this phenomenon has nothing to do with chocolate’s purported health benefits.

Not only is Asia home to an increasingly larger number of people classified as “middle class,” it seems that, like their counterparts in the West, once you try a bit of chocolate, you’re hooked. You can never go back to a life without (or with very little) chocolate.Image

Consider this: the world’s leaders when it comes to chocolate consumption are the Swiss where the average person eats more than 22 lbs of chocolate a year. Canadians consumer about 12 lbs annually and in the U.S. that number is 11 lbs. But that’s still a lot when you figure that the average person in China eats about a fifth of a pound in a year (I think I’ve eaten that much over the past holidays alone!).

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The opportunity to grow the chocolate market in the Asia-Pacific is huge. Big companies like Hershey know it and they’re setting up shop in the region, betting that they can cash in on all those chocoholics present and future.

All of these things factor into the ever-rising price of cocoa supplies. That includes cocoa butter, that delicious stuff that gives chocolate its unique melt-in-your-mouth quality. According to the International Cocoa Organization, cocoa makes up about 10% of the average price of a chocolate bar. Cocoa shortages are expected to hit late this year and, if current trends persist, we could see prices marching ever higher and global shortages until 2018.

I’m not writing this to alarm you. My hope is that you see this and, rather than rushing out to increase your chocolate intake, make a concerted effort to really enjoy the 12 lbs or so that you’ll be eating this year. I’ll be asking for chocolate in lieu of flowers this Valentine’s Day…

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