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Chocolate Shortfall Coming, But Not Extinction

Demand for cocoa is much steeper than growers can keep up with, but reports of chocolate's doom have been greatly exaggerated.

one chocolate truffle in its wrapper

Photo: Kat Rosario (flickr)

In South America alone, demand for cocoa is expected to grow 60 percent by 2017.

Alarming headlines over the last couple of weeks have declared that the world’s chocolate supply will entirely dry up on October 2, 2020. But if this date seems implausibly precise to you, that’s because it is. Take a breath. Relax.

Chocolatemageddon

Chocolate experts from around the world gathered for a conference at the British Library in London on October 2. Members of the group were quoted as saying that growing demand could suck all the cocoa out of the world in seven years.

Journalists covering the event did some quick math in their heads, and published an expiration date.

“What they didn’t say is we will run out if we don’t do anything,” said Angus Kennedy, a conference organizer and confection expert who bills himself as the real-life Willie Wonka. “They just said we’re going to run out. It’s extremely unlikely.”

Agriculture markets are plastic. While there are serious shortages on the horizon, this also means higher prices, which ends up making production more attractive.

Global Chocoholism

Despite the market’s flexibility, there is still some cause for alarm.

Demand is set to skyrocket over the next few years, according to Euromonitor International. The biz intel agency projects that chocolate consumption will grow in South America 60 percent by 2017, and in Asia by 55 percent over the same period. In Europe, only a 14 percent increase is expected, and in the U.S., interestingly, the prediction is for zero growth.

It takes four years for cocoa trees to produce fruit after planting, so farmers probably won’t be able to plant fast enough to catch up with the global appetite. Yields from existing trees can get a boost from careful cultivation, but this will require extra investment.

“It might take a bit of time for it to rectify itself because they’ve got to wait a number of years,” Kennedy said. “So, we’re looking at a lag in the supply, and that could lead to an era of extra nuts and berries as filler in chocolate treats,” he added.

Dark Ages, indeed. To complicate the economics even more, the globe’s growing demand for cars (and tires) in Asia means more farmers are growing rubber in cocoa-fertile zones.

Healthy Candy?

Chocolate has recently become more fashionable as an ingredient in everything from pastries to frothy iced coffee drinks. According to Kennedy, consumers are demanding more cocoa powder in their products in part because of industry-funded research that shows pure chocolate to be healthier than the stuff cut with milk and sugar.

Companies like Barry Callebaut are spending millions on research and campaigns to push health benefits of the highest-grade stuff. Recently, the European Union Commission even allowed the world’s largest chocolate producer to claim that consuming cocoa flavenol increases blood flow.

These claims are wafer thin, says Kennedy. A cocoa bean potentially contains 365 antioxidants, for example, so marketing companies can rightly claim that chocolate is high in antioxidants, but the human body can only absorb three of them.

“You’ve got an indulgent product. People eat it because they really enjoy it and they want to eat it,” he said.

Read More:

  • World To Officially Run Out Of Chocolate On October 2, 2020 (DNA India)
  • Will There Be A Chocolate Drought? World’s Supply Of Sustainable Cocoa Could Run Out By 2014 (Daily Mail)
  • EU Commission Approves Barry Callebaut’s Flavenol Health Claim (Candy Industry.com)
  • Better Stock Up On Your Favourites! Price Of Chocolate Could Rise By A Third By Christmas (Daily Mail)
Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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