Food: The cocoa crisis - is the bar of chocolate becoming more expensive?

Chocolate fans may be frightened at the sight.

Food: The cocoa crisis - is the bar of chocolate becoming more expensive?

Chocolate fans may be frightened at the sight. The price for a ton of raw cocoa on the raw materials exchange in London recently climbed steeply - to a record high of just under 5,500 euros. For comparison: at the beginning of January the price was under 4,000 euros and in February last year it was under 2,500 euros. The most important ingredient for chocolate is more expensive than ever. Consumers in Germany also have to expect that they will soon have to dig deeper into their pockets for the popular sweet.

"A kilo of cocoa is almost three euros more expensive than it was a year ago. Everyone can calculate for themselves what this means for the production costs of a 100 gram chocolate bar, which contains between 35 and 70 percent cocoa, but we are currently assessing the situation as a whole "says a spokesman for the chocolate manufacturer Ritter Sport. The company does not want to say anything about possible price increases for antitrust reasons. Solveig Schneider, deputy managing director of the Federal Association of the German Confectionery Industry (BDSI), explains: "Increased raw material prices and wages can lead to cost increases, which could tend to be passed on to the consumer."

Michele Buck, head of the US company Hershey, one of the world's largest confectionery manufacturers, did not rule out an increase in prices. “Given the current situation with cocoa prices, we will use every tool in our toolbox, including pricing, to manage the business,” she said when presenting the financial figures in mid-February. Alexander von Maillot, head of Germany at the Swiss food giant Nestlé, recently made similar comments.

Cocoa trees not resistant to virus

The price of cocoa has recently risen so sharply primarily because supply in the growing countries is becoming increasingly scarce. Ivory Coast and Ghana account for 60 percent of global cocoa production. Climate change is having a significant impact on cultivation. According to the environmental organization WWF, more frequent extreme weather events such as long periods of drought, heavy rain and floods have damaged the quality of cocoa, reduced yields or completely destroyed harvests.

Longer periods of rain also lead to the spread of plant diseases such as CSSVD. The virus, spread by aphids, causes cocoa trees to die. According to Kerstin Weber, environmental scientist at WWF, 17 percent of all cultivated areas in Ghana are already affected, and CSSVD is also spreading to Ivory Coast. Since cocoa trees are not resistant, the only effective treatment is to cut down infected trees and plant new ones, says Weber. The virus can spread so quickly because cocoa is usually grown in monocultures.

Per capita consumption of chocolate is 9.3 kilos

The confectionery industry complains about the sharp rise in costs. According to the BDSI, EU sugar was 72 percent more expensive in 2023 than in the previous year, cocoa butter increased by 52 percent and cocoa by 43 percent. The most recent developments are not yet fully taken into account here. How much will chocolate cost in the future? Food companies such as Mondelez ("Milka") simply say that setting end consumer prices is the responsibility of food retailers.

Retailers are also cautious when it comes to prices; for competitive reasons they do not want to say anything about this or the negotiations with manufacturers. Global demand is significantly greater than supply, says a Rewe spokesman. However, it cannot be inferred per se that chocolate or products containing cocoa are becoming more expensive. The reasons are the intense price competition, ongoing contracts, manufacturers' stockpiling and the actual cocoa content. This is legally required. A product can only be called chocolate if the proportion is at least 35 percent.

People in Germany have recently been severely affected by price increases and have often had to be thrifty when it comes to consumption, but less so when it comes to chocolate. According to market researchers at NIQ, the corresponding products increased significantly in 2023, and not just due to rising prices. The annual per capita consumption of chocolate products in Germany is stable; in 2023, according to the BDSI, it was 9.3 kilos. New price increases do not seem to deter many people. In a recent Yougov survey, 51 percent stated that their chocolate consumption would remain unchanged, while 37 percent would eat less.

"A good 20 years ago the table cost 99 pfennigs"

Armin Valet also expects chocolate to become more expensive. The food expert at the consumer advice center can also imagine that the classic table will become smaller. Valet has been studying products that shrink while prices remain the same or increase for years. Most recently, a lot of sweets ended up on his list. “Manufacturers and retailers know that consumers pay less attention to the price of luxury products such as chocolate. That’s why they are particularly keen to increase prices,” says Valet. In the past, chocolate has regularly become more expensive, even without rising raw material prices. "A good 20 years ago the table cost 99 pfennigs, currently 1.49 euros. So the price has tripled."

The cocoa shortage is unlikely to be a temporary phenomenon. The WWF cites studies according to which production in Africa could collapse even more sharply because the majority of cultivated areas will be significantly less suitable in the future. For many of the cocoa farmers, who often live in poverty, an important source of income would then disappear. Currently, only around six percent of the price of an average chocolate bar ends up with farmers.

“In many areas, cocoa cultivation only has a future if the necessary measures to adapt to climate change are taken in good time and a switch is made to resilient, sustainable cultivation systems,” says expert Weber. According to the WWF, there may also be greater fluctuations in availability and prices for other foods such as avocado, coffee, mango, coconut, papaya and bananas in the future due to the climate.