- The world's chocolate supply could be in danger from climate change, according to a new study from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture reported by Treehugger.
- The report predicts that the expected annual temperature increase of more than two degrees Celsius by 2050 will make cacao-producing areas in West Africa too hot to continue growing the crop.
- Prices are forecast to skyrocket as early as 2030 if preventative measures aren't taken. Various recommendations to preserve the crop include using larger shade trees to keep cacao trees cool; crop diversification; developing hardier cacao capable of tolerating warmer, drier conditions; and stepping up research into suitable irrigation systems.
For many consumers, chocolate means happiness, so the disappearance of one of the world’s favorite foods will bring nothing but sadness. However, despite these first warning signs that chocolate production is on the verge of decreasing, consumers are not halting their consumption. In fact, it is increasing. Growth in the U.S. chocolate market — driven by demand for premium varieties and sugar-free and dark chocolate products — is expected to surpass the $30 billion mark by 2021, according to a 2016 TechSci Research report.
Most of this market increase comes from an increase in sales of premium chocolates; the volume of chocolates sold remains static, Euromonitor says. Still, cacao producers must increase yields to keep pace with the global demand for chocolate, especially in the United States — the world’s biggest chocolate market, worth about $22 billion in 2016.
If cacao production becomes strained, consumers will see shortages and steep price increases. For the confectionery industry, where chocolate is a saving grace as consumers demand foods with a health halo, this could quickly become a tragedy.
Climate change will not just affect cacao production, but also shipment and transportation of the finished product to retailers and consumers. Chocolate is more likely to melt when shipped in warm weather, and refrigerated shipping can be prohibitively expensive. Unsurprisingly, predictions for warmer weather have left companies scrambling for a solution.
While the study showed ideal conditions for cacao-growing will shift to higher altitudes, it also indicated that establishing new cacao-producing areas could trigger the clearing of forests and important habitats, further exacerbating climate change even further.
Already, big chocolate companies like Hershey and Mars are taking steps to mitigate global warming instead of just adding more refrigeration to their transportation and calling it a day. Mars, which has already proven its commitment to sustainability initiatives hired a team of meteorologists to find solutions to the impact of climate change on the chocolate industry. In Hershey's case, the company agreed to reduce its emissions to 50% of its 2009 levels by 2025. The company has also pledged to increase the number of electric vehicles in its corporate fleet, expand recycling programs, and reduce water use.
Although taking these steps toward sustainability will increase costs that will likely be passed onto the consumer, consumers may be fine with that. In a study of 30,000 consumers across 60 countries, Nielsen found nearly two-thirds of them are willing to pay more for sustainable goods — and that figure is on the rise. Plus, the more transparent companies are about their efforts, the more likely they are to keep customers coming back for more. According to Label Insight, manufacturers that adopt "complete transparency" are rewarded with consumer loyalty of about 94%. So saving the planet may be good for business after all.