The Growing Demand of Chocolate

A bowl of cocoa powder next to pieces of chocolate and cocoa beans

The consumption of chocolate is far from an emerging trend. In fact, the cultivation of cocoa beans dates back to the Mayans, when the inhabitants of the ancient civilization harvested the crop for a ritual beverage that was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies. In the centuries since this time, chocolate has been a ubiquitous treat enjoyed throughout countless generations. However, the chocolate industry is facing imminent worldwide demands far greater than ever before.

The growing demand of chocolate is emerging mainly in Asia, as the average amount of the treat consumed per person across the Asia-Pacific in 2013 was around 200 grams. Changing preferences, heavily fueled by trends in urbanization and an ever-expanding middle class, are responsible for the significant presence of chocolate in these people’s lives.

The primary nations leading the charge for the revitalized love of chocolate in Asia are the two most populous countries in both the continent and the world: China and India. In fact, chocolate sales in China are projected to grow to $4.3 billion by the year 2019, which would be a 60 percent increase from $2.7 billion just five years prior.

This collective chocolate passion is sure to please those consuming the cocoa treats, but it does make one wonder: can the industry meet these demands? According to Mars, under current production levels, possibly not. The titan chocolate company has estimated that demand for cacao could outstrip supply by more than 1 million tons by 2020. In pursuit of ways to meet the growing demand, major chocolate companies collectively invested $1 billion into the scientific community throughout 2015 and 2016 to uncover new ways for breeders to efficiently produce disease-resistant and quicker-growing varieties of cocoa.

However, as the major chocolate companies are exhausting time, money, and effort into meeting the upcoming needs of the industry, much of the responsibility still lies with the cocoa farmers and rural workers, who number 14 million on the equator-based cocoa farms worldwide. These farms, to keep up with the growing demand, must facilitate growth through the adoption of sustainable practices. Cocoa production, in general, faces the challenge of being labor intensive while producing relatively low yields. This makes it a challenge for the farms to be economically viable.

Luckily, there exist several sustainability initiatives for cocoa farmers, with much of the industry adhering to the consensus that the farmers should increase the use of sustainable cocoa during the upcoming years. ISO is currently working on a series of standards for sustainable and traceable cocoa beans to fulfill the need to harmonize these initiatives.

The ISO 34101 series will specify a management system for the farming of cocoa beans, through the guidance of a dynamic farm management plan to make production more sustainable. Since September 2016, parts one, two, and three of ISO 34101 have been in the Draft International Stage (DIS), meaning anyone interested can submit feedback on the drafts. Its final publication is slated for 2017.

The ISO 34101 standards aim to implement good agricultural practices, protect the environment, and improve the social conditions and livelihoods of farmers. According to ISO, they are intended to be used by all members of the cocoa supply chain, spanning from the farmers to the purchasers of the cocoa and organizations involved.

Another goal with the publication of this standard is to make cocoa farming more attractive to young people. This is an especially important implication to consider, since the average age of farmers in the main cocoa-producing regions of the world has risen in the past several decades. While there are numerous benefits to complying with sustainable practices and an interest in environmental stewardship, it is just as important to remember that younger people place a priority on these issues.

Studies have shown that most Millennials, along with Generation Z, look for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact, and they are even willing to pay more for them. With an increased focus on sustainability and the widespread adoption of reliable practices, cocoa farms can be guaranteed a work force of the future, which is certainly important when preparing for upcoming demands.

The ISO 34101 series is truly a modern response to the growing worldwide demand of chocolate, but it is not the first standard published to give guidance on cocoa beans. ISO 2451:2017 – Cocoa beans – Specification and quality requirements specifies the requirements, classification, test methods, sampling, packaging, and marking for cocoa beans, and it even gives some recommendations on storage and disinfestation in its annexes.

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