There is a misconception that we going to lose chocolate in the future because of climate change. This is a genuine fear held by many chocolate lovers who are worried about the rising CO2 emissions, rising temperatures, and changes to the natural environment. While the fear of losing chocolate forever is a scary reality, it is not probable. The good news is that the chocolate industry will be able to successfully transition to sustainable practices within the next twenty years regardless of consumer purchasing habits.
The overwhelming majority of the global population believes that climate change exists, and poses a threat to human life. How exactly the effects of climate change will impact our landscape and everyday lives remain uncertain. Though, we are starting to see a trend towards rising temperatures and increased frequency and intensity of droughts. These two factors will impact what crops we will be able to grow, where we grow them, and how we can grow and maintain them.
Fragile trees like Theobrama cacao will be greatly affected by these changes in temperature and precipitation. Chocolate comes from the Cacao tree. Tiny sweet pods from the tree are harvested, fermented, dried, packed, and shipped to overseas factories which create cocoa. Cocoa is a base ingredient used in so many foods, cosmetics, medicines, and of course the chocolate bar. Cacao trees currently survive at 18 degrees north and south of the equator due to the perfect heat and humidity. The trees require rich and well-drained soil, which are scarce in the tropics. While the plant is native to the amazon, it is primarily cultivated in Africa and Indonesia (Caspero, 2015). 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa (Schroth et al. 2016). Figure 1 shows how climate change will impact the region within the next 35 years. The areas of red indicate current areas of cocoa production. Currently drought and the conversion of forest lands into savannas are the main issues of concern in West Africa. (Schroth et al. 2016).
Chocolate production does not come without its problems to both people and the environment. The problems impact how chocolate is viewed, understood, and traded with the rest of the world. Wildlife and natural ecosystems are harmed in the production and maintenance of the cocoa fields. Soil contamination and water runoff impact local watersheds and water sources for people in the area (Caspero, 2015). The industry relies on child labor and child trafficking in order to harvest the cacao and maintain the fields (Silva et al, 2016). Child labor further limits education, and keeps families reliant on the cacao plantations to support themselves. Further intensification of cacao plantations leads to pesticide use, which increases the exposure to carcinogens for the workers (Caspero, 2015).
Cacao trees have a productive life cycle of about 30 years, and it takes at least two years for the plants to become harvestable. Over-aged trees are not as productive as new growth trees (Schroth et al. 2016). Cacao trees are therefore a long-term investment, and a single drought could wipe out a crop. The crop may be the only source of a family’s revenue for at least two years. When trees get wiped out, those who have been cacao farmers for generations have to move to the cities’ shanty towns in order to find a slightly better life (Chen, 2015). While a fraction of the chocolate industry is already producing sustainable chocolate at fair wages, a majority of the chocolate, specially produced in west Africa, is sent to major chocolate conglomerates (Silva et al, 2016) Think Kraft, Nestle, or Hershey.
10 Surprising Facts about the War on Chocolate
If nothing is done on an industry level to combat climate change, mass amounts of cacao trees will die without being replanted. The price of chocolate will go up. When the price goes up, people can’t afford the product. When they can’t afford the product, they won’t purchase as much which could send companies under. Therefore, the industry has a vested interest in combating the effects of climate change. However, it may take several years for the industry to shift over to a better sustainable system. In the meantime, many heritage farmers in third world countries will find themselves without a way to support themselves (Schmitz, 2012). Cacao farmers could also switch to palm oil or rubber in order to make ends meet (Chen, 2015), if they already don’t move towards the big cities. For the product itself, however, there will be a major loss in heritage and cultivation knowledge (Schmitz, 2012). This knowledge is inherent with the land that the people inhabit. The future of chocolate on a production scale may be very different because it will be hard to replicate sustainable plantations without this knowledge. Yet, producers in these areas affected by changes will be protected if they can find a way to adapt (Chen, 2015). In order to be truly sustainable, industry will have to invest back into the farmers themselves in order to maintain the knowledge.
With the effects of climate change underway, 2020 represents the “end of chocolate” as we know it, within the chocolate industry (Gale, 2013). As seen in figure 1, the land available for chocolate cultivation is slowly being lost (Schroth et al. 2016). A “Chocolate Crisis” will hit the rest of the world approximately in 10 years, and chocolate prices across the board will start to skyrocket if we do nothing towards sustainable chocolate development. Even first world countries like Switzerland rely on the chocolate industry for economic purposes and will be directly impacted by the chocolate shortages (Chen, 2015).
There will be a further drying of climate in west Africa as a 30% reduction in rainfall is expected within the next 35 years (Schroth et al. 2016). The heat in West Africa will likely be too hot by 2050 for existing cacao trees to survive (Chen, 2015). The temperatures directly affect water availability in the region, further reducing water availability for plants (Schroth et al. 2016). Monsoons in Indonesia are likely to become worse due to climate change, and are likely to destroy Cacao flowers before they are even fertilized (Schmitz, 2012).
As with many other crises’ related to climate change, first world consumers are springing up in an attempt to change their consumer habits. One of these changes involves getting their favorite suppliers to “switch over” to sustainable chocolate, as though it’s that easy to save the world. Philanthropy does have an impact, though. For example, Harry Potter fans convinced the supply chain that supplies Harry Potter themed Chocolate Frogs to be made from sustainable chocolate with the help of JK Rowling (Watt, 2015).
The Problem with this approach is that it burdens the consumer to be the catalyst for change in the system. Consumerism is an impractical and reckless approach to attempting to save a fundamentally flawed system, reliant on so many other factors than just purchasing power. From a consumer end, there isn’t as much choice as we would like to believe. If we don’t even know about sustainable chocolate options, how are we going to demand them? Also, this leaves the crowd mentality in first world countries to determine the fate and livelihood of farmers in other countries. Chocolate may be a frivolous extra in the first world, but it is necessary for survival in some third world countries that rely on it for their economy.
The consumer mentality is less concerned about quality as it is quantity with today’s trends. The trend is starting to shift, but not across the board. Therefore, while sustainable chocolate is still on the rise, it is still not enough in itself to motivate the chocolate industry to shift. Motivation to change to sustainable practices, within this industry, seems more probable when the survival of the product is at stake.
1. We are Actually Getting A LOT More Efficient in Chocolate Production
It may seem that society don’t seem to appreciate what we have until it is gone, but that is just a perception and misconception. Changing how the supply is produced is far easier and more practical, than changing the consumer demand and the supply. In order to demand change within consumer demand, one must first empathize with the consumer. The majority of consumers don’t even take into account the supply chain of every individual product that they purchase. For the sake of convenience and price, quality and sustainability is sacrificed.
This quest for convenience is at the sake of biodiversity, which can leave the industry unstable. As demand grows, quality diminishes when we turn to reducing biodiversity (Schmitz, 2012). Chocolate plants were grown with a great quantity of variety. They still are today, but on a much smaller scale. The majority of chocolate farms produce vast quantities of chocolate from a handful of species. Having a small amount of species responsible for a vast amount of product can be devastating when it comes to infestations. Having the same variety of plants in such a large concentration makes a species susceptible to many forms of diseases like Black Pod Rot, Witches Broom, and Frosty Pod Rot (Sethi, 2014).
The most common of the cacao plant species across the globe is CCN-51. This plant was specifically developed in order to combat those diseases mentioned previously, while also increasing productivity. Yet, the plants are still grown on a magnitude so large, that the entire system becomes fragile. Monocrops increase risk of total crop failure. Therefore, we should strive to encourage biodiverse systems of production.
On the other hand, biodiverse systems are more cumbersome and require a lot of time, resources, and a possible change in infrastructure to make possible. For these reasons, chocolate production has not yet automatically switched over to a fully sustainable system. The industry, however, will have to switch over to more sustainable systems regardless with enough time with a simple cost-benefit analysis. The question remains, will it be in time to save the product?
2. The Industry Is Already Changing Even Witout Activism
Now, if we consider the end goal to saving chocolate by using sustainable practices, we are adding yet another variable to the system when we hold the consumer responsible for shifting the demand. This way of thinking is faulty for several reasons, but primarily due to a lack of education about the industry, lack of proper resources, and cost. Purchase intent decided by quality, price and other production costs (Silva et al, 2016). Organic chocolate may get confused with sustainable chocolate when a consumer is determining their purchase, even if they have the most ethical, fair-trade, sustainable practices in mind. All of these things deter consumers from messing up on making the right choice in the first place. Therefore, the consumer is not the sole rationale for switching the chocolate industry over to more sustainable practices.
Several studies, including Vringer et al. (2015) discussed the viability of people purchasing sustainable products that are more readily available. Think of a Walmart starting to look a lot more like Whole Foods in a probable future. Participants were given a selection of products with some brands being more sustainable, as mentioned on the label, even though the price was the same. Participants who are not used to buying sustainable products were still willing to commit to buying sustainable products (Vringer et al. 2015). The biggest gap was in cost. Once sustainable products are no longer a luxury, they will become more commonplace. The shift in demographics will lead further sustainable innovation in other industries as well, because people will demand it. People want sustainable goods and are willing to buy them, but they sometimes don’t have a choice because the cost makes sustainability a luxury.
Looking at the patterns of consumerism. Vringer et al. (2015) looked at overall attempts to persuade people to choose better alternatives in their purchasing patterns. Peer pressure is much more effective in shifting consumer habits than enforcing regulations (Vringer et al. 2015). Telling people what to look for in products is also a lot more effective than telling people what to not look for in products in shifting their consumer habits (Kemps, 2014). Essentially, telling consumer to stop purchasing unsustainable chocolate from the big chocolate conglomerates, is not going to be as effective as companies making gradual shifts in how their products are marketed. Different cues can change consumption patterns as well (Kemps, 2014). How we consume chocolate may also change as time goes on. We might demand quality over quantity moving forward, more so than we are not: as evidenced by the hipster and weight-loss movements in the country.
3. Age, Class, Race and Gender is Most Likely to Determine if You Support Sustainable Chocolate
However, we must not forget how age, gender, and income are most likely influencing people to pay more for chocolate (Vecchio and Annuziata, 2014). Chocolate consumption can become a classist issue very fast, as participants in this study were far more likely to be older white females than any other group. While this demographic is still a quite large demographic, it is very small in the overall landscape of chocolate consumption across the world. However this small demographic is more than likely to purchase ethical fair trade chocolate than any other group. Lifestyles and consumption habits influence people in purchasing chocolate (Vecchio and Annuziata, 2014). Since no two people are the same, it is inaccurate, and a disservice to lump all demographics into one group of consumption patterns. If we can’t even mobilize one group to demand better, ethical chocolate, how can we motivate the industry to motivate even more consumers to demand better chocolate, just as an attempt to motivate the industry to change? It’s just simpler to motivate the industry to change, even though the people in this small demographic are the most likely to influence that change. They are not solely responsible for all the atrocities of the chocolate industry.
There seems to be a big market for specialty chocolate and it can be produced more sustainably, but how are we going to keep bulk chocolate sustainable when the majority of people care more about quantity and not quality. Customers only occasionally choose to buy sustainable products (Vringer et al. 2015) There is more of a demand of customers who are willing to pay, but it’s mainly driven by novelty or guilt when not driven by the need for high-quality chocolate.
Meanwhile, the quintessential marker of high quality, ethical chocolate is third party certifications. Currently, there are at least 435 Third Party certifications, worldwide (Silva et al, 2016). The influence for certified cocoa is at 40% (Silva et al, 2016). While that statistic doesn’t seem super high, the chocolate industry for certified cocoa is the highest of any industry in the region. We use third party certifications to help label our chocolate in an effort to encourage more sustainable practices. Product labels do provide market incentives (Vecchio and Annuziata, 2014), but they are not the only drivers of change in the industry.
4. We Actually Don’t Care About Sustainability If Alternatives are Cheaper Since the Consequences Don’t Affect Us Directly.
The problem with labeling chocolate is that most customers don’t look at labels. Even if they did, there are so many different labels, that it would be very hard to make sense of it all. Companies trying to make more money by charging extra for a sustainable label may have an incentive to label their chocolate when it doesn’t really mean anything at all. Those who attach little value to quality may choose to ignore information altogether (Vecchio and Annuziata, 2014). Meanwhile, large conglomerates who produce the biggest chunk of chocolate in the industry do not stand to gain much in labeling their chocolate when customers are accustomed to paying lower prices. Imagine a fair trade label on a snicker bar. Even if it was fair trade, the consumer is not very likely to care. Further questioning the consumer’s responsibility to save the chocolate industry.
Finally, the last major caveat with having fair trade organic certifications on all chocolate in order to fix the chocolate industry is money. Fair Trade and organic certifications cost money to the farmers (Caspero, 2015), and sometimes there is no benefit to the certification when large companies buy for a set price regardless of the certification. Thereby, the incentive to have a fair trade label is lost. Furthermore, organic and sustainable chocolate is not the same. One requires no pesticides, while the other is supposed to withstand climate change and use as few resources as possible. Both are completely different from fair trade, which promotes human rights. Most people don’t understand this difference, further proving how impractical it is for mass consumerism to be in charge of determining the fate of chocolate.
Instead, let’s look at where the Real Change Happens. Changing how we consume chocolate is vital, but not the primary driver. Corporate survival and inevitability of the future will be more potent determinants on how the chocolate industry in shaped in the future. However, one thing that corporations are not likely to account for is human right violations and fair trade practices. The industry nor consumer is not solely responsible for solving this crisis, but both do play a role in perpetuating a faulty system.
5. Big Chocolate Companies KNOW that Their Industry Will Die If They Don’t Address Climate Change
While we look at changing chocolate consumption, it must be taken into consideration that consumerism is not the only consideration that needs to be changed. The industry will have to adapt within the next twenty years in order or face disaster. However, if companies start the switch sooner, the transition will be much less expensive and less detrimental to the environment. In the meantime, consumers can take at least a little bit of responsibility in order to possibly shift the market sooner than absolutely necessary. This consumer change is rooted in turning the idea of chocolate back into a treat.
Currently, chocolate is omnipresent. We see it everywhere, in desserts, in fragrances, in cosmetics. The abundance can lead one to think that chocolate isn’t in danger. How could it be in danger, when we find it everywhere? This simple misconception can be tweaked when we realize that chocolate should be a treat. Abundance decreases the value of a substance. If consumers care about the future of chocolate, they should strive to reduce their intake and purchasing more sustainable chocolate on occasion. However, it is still important to understand that these actions alone, or even collectively will still not be enough to make the sweeping changes in the industry. It does feel good to feel like you are at least helping, though. If people want to feel good about helping, the best way to help could be in motivation for human rights for farmers. Since the chocolate industry is going to inevitably have to transition to sustainable chocolate, there is really no point campaigning for a transition for the sake of the environment. However, as mentioned previously, motivating people to change in order to change a flawed industry requires more effort than attempting to motivate only the industry itself.
6. No Matter What We Say Otherwise, We Really Can’t Taste The Difference Between GMO and Non-GMO Chocolate
People’s perception of quality may influence their consumption patterns. In a study by Silva et al. (2016), there was a blind taste test of the same exact chocolate, just labeled differently. The chocolate that was labeled “sustainable” was rated higher than all the other chocolates, even though they were all exactly the same. Therefore, the study showed how people like the feeling that they are contributing to a greater good, even if the change is completely out of their control.
Also, a study by Vringer et al. (2015) concluded that everyone would be better off if we all used sustainable products, but not everyone can afford or want higher pricing so they leave the burden of sustainable consumption to others. The same is true in the chocolate industry. While the induvial does not hold much power in changing the chocolate industry, a large collective of people demanding sustainable chocolate will be far more effective at encouraging a sweeping shift in the industry. Instead of being apathetic, people can advocate for changes that they would like to see in the world. However, trying to encourage an entire population to demand sustainable chocolate in addition to convincing an industry whose survival is dependent on said change anyway, seems like a waste of time and resources. It would be much better, to show industries how their product will be affected by climate change, and convincing the general population that the loss of chocolate may be a consequence of ever-increasing fossil fuel use.
Yet, lasting change in this industry is more than just encouraging different farming practices. Vecchio and Annuziata (2014) talk about how labeling is important for finding the solution of problems related to collective well-being. People want to feel good about the products they are buying. They want to live in a community that encourages sustainable practices because it makes them feel like they are part of a whole that is making the world a better place. In order to feel better, consumers are starting to shift to buying more sustainable brands, and possibly consuming less of unsustainable mega-conglomerate brands. However, there is still not much more to this method of switching consumer habits other than how it makes a consumer feels. Companies can recognize this upcoming trend and respond accordingly and will most likely profit off it, but the same companies inevitably will make the shift regardless of consumer input.
7. Companies are Trying to Be Sustainable Without Even Realizing It
Most major brands are committing to sustainable chocolate by 2020 (Gale, 2013). But it’s a more self-interest motivation than anything else. Brands are recognizing how climate change will impact their business models. Big companies are starting to promote sustainable agriculture because their livelihood depends on it (Chen, 2015).
Companies only have to adapt to how the environment will be affecting their crops, but they don’t necessarily have to adapt to fair trade practices in order to be considered sustainable or even survive. Big chocolate players are committing to sustainable chocolate, but the challenge is to the farmers (Gale, 2013). While the official community of sustainable professionals recognize how fair trade and social justice are key to the definition of sustainability, companies may not realize or recognize it because the general public may not understand the distinction, and will purchase products regardless of ethics because it at least protects the environment. Understanding this gap is key in marketing sustainable chocolate to the masses, as well as encouraging companies to make the shift over to real sustainable initiatives.
8. The Chocolate War Will Be Almost Entirely Won by Big Business
The chocolate industry, however, will most likely be one of the first advocates for sustainable agriculture within the next few years (Gale, 2013). If they don’t, the industry will die. However, this positioning will be a great first model for other industries to follow. For other big industries, they must realize their survival is at stake in order to fix it.
In order to embrace sustainable chocolate, we need to first look towards the future of chocolate production and consumption. Even though the area in West Africa is shrinking, it will not be completely destroyed. The transition is not all or nothing. The industry only needs to adapt to climate change in order to keep the industry going. Sustainable professionals can especially help in this transition by modeling which areas are most likely impacted by climate change in order to help invest in places worth saving and what is worth overlooking (Schroth et al. 2016). Essentially, the future of chocolate is in the hands of those few individuals who can successfully predict trouble spots, and adapt or relocate the crops accordingly. The opportunity lies in the transition of products and chains while relocating and enhancing current practices (Chen, 2015).
9. Genetically Modified Chocolate May Soon Be a Thing
Other than location and humidity, genetic diversity is necessary to provide resiliency for the species. The cacao genome has been sequenced and preserved in face of disaster. It may not taste as good, but at least the technology can improve. However, it is unlikely that the crop will become completely wiped out over the next twenty years. As genetically modified trees become more accepted, implementation can increase a number of cocoa pods on the tree (Schmitz, 2012).
With the ongoing battle between climate change and the chocolate industry, the biggest solution is to raise yields without tearing down new forests. New plants would have the ability to resist pests and fungus and reduce the amount of water needed. Resources exist including fertilizers, fungicides, training programs, and GMO’s resistant to problems (Schmitz, 2012). Getting these resources to every farmer is too big for any one government or corporation to accomplish. Cooperation is needed in order to get everyone on the same page. No single organization will be able to solve this problem alone. Corporate accountability needs to take into account inputs to manufacturing, not just consider the company as one entity.
10. Sustainable Chocolate Won’t Break the Bank
Reorganization of industry needs to be a must. Farmers, currently, are not members of the professional cocoa farming (Gale, 2013). Farmers could create unions across countries in order to bargain for better pricing and working rights. Implementing new genetically modified plants could increase production which directly increases income for farmers (Schmitz, 2012). Another big opportunity for change involves communication between farmers and the giant corporations. Well managed corporations can work better to help communicate sustainable practices down the chain. Rules and regulations can be just as acceptable and more effective as long as the government takes a lead in setting up enforceable rules and regulations (Vringer et al. 2015). If companies reduce their exploitation on farmers, working conditions and living conditions in third world countries can improve. Human rights workers could in theory be effective at improving living conditions for people in third world countries by helping to establish co-ops and union rights for farmers, than merely treating the symptoms of severe poverty.
The answer is not in changing consumption patterns, but help conglomerates make the transition to sustainable chocolate for their own sake. Distribution and Production, not Consumption. The product of chocolate will not be saved by consumerism because the industry will adapt. Their survival depends on it. Companies will have to switch to sustainable and efficient initiatives or lose their market completely. They are not going to let the product wipe itself out, so they will intervene to save the product, even if it is for economic reasons.
New Measures can save chocolate, but quality, heritage, knowledge, livelihood, space and resource management are all going to change within the next 20 years. Human rights will still need to be addressed within this industry, but those changes will not be solved with more consumerism.
Do not expect to make any major changes just by purchasing different types of chocolate. Support sustainable chocolate Initiatives if you want to feel like you are helping a cause, but don’t do so out of guilt or fear of losing chocolate forever. Chocolate isn’t going anywhere, but you can view chocolate as a treat and not as a cheap entitlement. Enjoy chocolate for what it is, guilt free.
- Brave new chocolate: as most of the major chocolate players commit to sustainable chocolate within seven years, the 2020 goal poses a slew of challenges for suppliers. (2013). Candy Industry, (1), 50. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.chatham.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.321475967&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Caspero, A. (2015). In Search of sustainable chocolate: look for Fair Trade[TM] and Rain Forest Alliance[TM] certifications to ensure your cocoa products are fairly and sustainably cultivated.Environmental Nutrition, (12), 3. Retrieved fromhttp://ezproxy.chatham.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.436231955&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Kemps, E., Tiggemann, M., & Elford, J. (2015). Sustained effects of attentional re-training on chocolate consumption. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 49, Part A, 94–100. https://doi.org/1016/j.jbtep.2014.12.001
- National Chocolate Day: Could climate change hurt supplies? (2015).The Christian Science Monitor.
- Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation.Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024
- Sethi, S. (2015). Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
- Silva, A. R. de A., Bioto, A. S., Efraim, P., & Queiroz, G. de C. (2017). Impact of sustainability labeling in the perception of sensory quality and purchase intention of chocolate consumers.Journal of Cleaner Production, 141, 11–21. https://doi.org/1016/j.jclepro.2016.09.024
- The future of chocolate. (n.d.).
- Vecchio, R., & Annunziata, A. (2015). Willingness-to-pay for sustainability-labelled chocolate: an experimental auction approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 86, 335–342. https://doi.org/1016/j.jclepro.2014.08.006
- Vringer, K., Vollebergh, H., van Soest, D., van der Heijden, E., & Dietz, F. (2015). SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION DILEMMAS — ENVIRONMENT WORKING PAPER No. 84. OECD Environment Working Papers, (84/85), 1. Retrieved fromhttp://ezproxy.chatham.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=102152611&site=eds-live&scope=site