Credit: Panasonic blog
In Mayan times, it was traded as a precious currency, with a value on a par with gold and jewels. In the UK, we eat about 7kg of chocolate, the equivalent of 70 (yes, seventy) Easter eggs every year. But in sharp contrast to the gloomy news of the past five years, it seems that we now have too much of the stuff. Thanks to a bumper crop last year from benign weather, there is an abundant supply of chocolate this season. On a side note, does this not make Cadbury's recent decision to increase the price of a Freddo bar by 25% even more mystifying? To quote one Twitter user, "forget the housing crisis, 30p for a Freddo is the greatest indictment on today's economy."
,Demand for chocolate is soaring in Asian and Middle Eastern markets where the standard of living is increasing and people are developing a taste for confectionery. On the other hand, demand is flattening out in European markets, as growing health consciousness grips consumers. No one knows if emerging markets will continue to grow, albeit from a tiny base, or peak and eventually reverse.
Credit: Cocoa Barometer 2015
Supply generally is going down, and that means prohibitively expensive chocolate is in our future. Cacao trees planted a quarter century ago have hit their production peaks and the land they grow on is no longer as fertile as it once was. The cacao plant can only be grown in latitudes within 10 degrees of the equator, and an estimated 30% is lost to pests and diseases such as Frosty Pod Rot each year. Small-scale cacao farmers in West Africa and Latin America, many of whom survive on less than £1 per day, lack incentives to replant their trees as they die off, preferring to plant more lucrative crops like rubber. Many are moving into cities to seek higher paying work.
Credit: CNN, Cocoa-nomics explained
Climate change will also play a part. Cacao is a delicate crop and trees are susceptible to changing weather patterns. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture has warned that an expected annual temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 will leave many cocoa producing areas too hot to grow the crop. Yields in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, which alone produce over 70% of the world’s cacao, would be decimated.
In the long term, if demand rises and supply struggles to keep up, the amount and quality of cocoa in what we call chocolate will decline, replaced by imitation fillers. The chocolate bar of the future will be sludgy in texture and sweeter in taste, as cheaper ingredients such as sugar and vegetable oil will be used instead of the more expensive cocoa. John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, says in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar: "It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
Savour those Easter eggs whilst you can folks, before they cost ten times as much and are ten times less tasty.