Remember the headlines a while ago about chocolate on track to go extinct in a couple of decennia?
As being cocoa farmers ourselves, we did some research and concluded that this would not be the case. We will still eat chocolate, even 100 years from now. However, chocolate might be much more expensive and look and taste completely different by then. Here is why.
CACAO PRODUCTION DECLINING?
We all know about global warming. The big players in the chocolate market, Mars and Callebaut don’t care if this is due to natural causes or human intervention. They care about the cocoa trees and are afraid that climate change will limit the already limited regions in which cocoa can grow. Cocoa might end up like coffee and tea: planted higher up on hills and low mountains.
An even more dangerous and urgent threat though is coming from Africa. Ghana and Ivory Coast are responsible for almost 70% of the world cocoa production. However, the average age of the cocoa trees is higher than elsewhere worldwide. Farmers get much lesser paid for a kilo of cocoa in these countries than on other continents. A monopoly, allowed by the governments give the buyers the freedom to pay much less for the beans, sometimes even up to 40% less. Because of this underpayment farmers are forced to use child labor (which is hardly happening outside of Africa), and they have no money to replace the older cocoa trees for younger ones. Trees older than 25 years are producing less and less yield. As a result, the yield per hectare is much lower in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon.
WILL SOUTH AMERICA AND ASIA TAKE OVER?
African production is facing challenging times, but other countries are showing increased production of cocoa; especially in the South American region. There are also newcomers in the field (especially in Asia) like Vietnam, Australia and our country of origin, Cambodia. And there are former cocoa champions whose cocoa production were struck by diseases but are now picking up speed again. Think of Brazil, Thailand, and Malaysia. But it is unclear if those increased productions can compensate for the loss of African output in the future, or not.
CAN YOU STILL EAT CHOCOLATE IN THE FUTURE?
The Swiss are the all-time champions when it comes to eating chocolate. They break the records year after year with an average 8.8 kilos of chocolate per person disappearing each year into their mouths. But the choc-shock is coming from an entirely different corner of the world: India and China. Indians and Chinese combined are representing more than one-third of the world population. And they are developing an alarming appetite for chocolate: the Chinese ate less than 50 grams per person in the early 2000’s; now they consume a sloppy 200 gram per person per year. The Indians are not far behind anymore with an average 172 gram. India and China are now (graphs from 2016) number five and six in the list of biggest chocolate consumers per country, behind the USA, UK, France, and Brazil.
THE HUNT FOR CHOCOLATE SUBSTITUTES
There is already cheap (and disgusting) chocolate on the market, which barely can carry the name chocolate anymore. The term ‘chocolate flavor’ is covering more and more candy bars who pretend to contain chocolate but are only a mix of sugar, flavor and other cheaper ingredients like palm oil. This trend will continue in the future. And manufacturers becoming more and more creative with this cover-ups. Recently we discovered a candy bar with the clever texts ‘more creamy, more chocolatey’. Whatever chocolatey might mean, for sure it’s not referring to cocoa.
Another exciting development is the discovery of seeds from jackfruit. These sweet-smelling seeds are mostly thrown away as waste. But a research published in the ‘American Chemical Society Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry’ tells that “for the first time we found that after roasting, jackfruit seeds imparted an aroma similar to that of chocolate.” It could become a cheap substitute for cocoa.
EXCITING AND BIZAR NEW CHOCOLATE INGREDIENTS
With new mass consumption from places like India, China, Korea and Japan new kinds of chocolate will appear. It already happened with the adding of matcha, the powdered green tea leaves, influenced by the taste of the Japanese. Matcha KitKat, for instance, is dominating the snack shelves in supermarkets across East and South-East Asia.
Also expect Indian consumers to push for ingredients like cardamom, fennel seeds, cloves, saffron and star anise.
In the Philippines, upcoming bean-to-bar chocolatiers are creating chocolate with local products like pili nuts, mangos, turon (a type of banana lumpia), and siling labuyo (a small native chili pepper). The craziest ingredients we saw came from the chocolate maker Hiraya who creates chocolate bars with crunchy pork skin (chicharon) and with salty Edam cheese chunks (Queso de Bola).
But what to think of the Koreans who are now integrating chocolate with seaweed and boiled squid?
CAN WE STILL AFFORD TO BUY CHOCOLATE?
The price of chocolate is of course connected to the cost of cocoa. And when you think of the rising middle classes around the world, you can understand that the demand for cocoa will quickly overshadow the growing supply. When people start to become middle class, they begin to develop a sweeter tooth. Chocolate is fitting into this. And if you think about it: the 172 gram (India) and 200 gram (China) consumption of chocolate per year is still nothing compared to the average five till eight kilos of chocolate consumed in the western world. There will not be enough cocoa to produce all the chocolate requested by this new consumers. Cheaper substitutes will sometimes replace cocoa. And the price of cocoa – and therefore chocolate – will rise. I read research from the University of Ghent a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t find it anymore. But what I remembered very clear was their prediction that the cocoa price would rise by 2027 to $14 per kilo. I don’t know if they placed the bar too high, but it signals that a dramatic rise in cocoa prices is expected.
CONCLUSION: CHOCOLATE IN 2120
It won’t take long before India and China are the number one and two of the most chocolate consuming countries in the world. In the past 100 years, the Western mouth dominated the chocolate industry. In the next 100 years, it will be the Asians who will decide the shape, the look and the taste of the chocolate. Shape-wise, everything can be expected: from triangle to dumpling shaped chocolate snacks. And when it comes to taste, the sky is the limit. The Koreans already set the bar high with previously unknown combinations with squid and seaweed. This trend will continue. In 2120 we will find it perfectly reasonable to chew on a fried starfish leg dipped in several layers of chocolate, or nibble on a chocolate bar with shiitake mushrooms dipped in chicken blood and spiced with wasabi.