Dark Chocolate

World Suffering From Chocolate Shortage, Science May Have A Solution

The world is on course for a serious shortage of chocolate by 2020, according to two large chocolate producers. The shortage is being described as a classic economic problem where demand continues to grow, but supply simply cannot keep up. Chocolate may soon be a luxury most people can’t afford.

According to the Washington Post, Mars company and Swiss chocolate maker, Barry Callebaut, say that by 2020, demand will outweigh supply by some one million metric tons. That may be shocking, but production shortages in the chocolate industry are already becoming normal.

In 2013, the world ate 70,000 metric tons of chocolate more than it produced, marking the longest streak of chocolate shortages in 50 years according to Bloomberg. That streak appears like it will only get worse as time goes on.

The problems exist on both the supply and demand side of the chocolate trade.

Demand has been increasing as Chinese consumers spend more of their rising incomes on luxuries. Not only that, but the appeal of dark chocolate, which requires more cocoa per pound than milk chocolate, has been growing.

On the supply side, changes in the environment are making growing chocolate more difficult than ever. About 70 percent of the world’s chocolate is grown in just two countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana. However, a serious drought has been destroying many of the cocoa plants creating part of the shortage.

Disease is also a factor. As Time explained, a fungus, colorfully known as frosty pod, has wiped out about 30 to 40 percent of the harvest. The difficulties have left many farmers looking to other more reliable crops like corn.

The end result is that the price of chocolate has risen 60 percent since 2012.

But there’s still hope, thanks to science.

As the Washington Post explained, a research group has been busy attempting to grow a new kind of cocoa tree that will produce seven times more chocolate and is more disease resistant. There’s just one problem, it lacks taste. As Ed Seguine, a distinguished chocolate taster, explained, the new breed of chocolate tastes like “acidic dirt.”

Still, it’s surprising that scientists are reacting to the shortage so quickly. Cocoa plants are difficult to breed for specific qualities because of the long growing period. Whereas a malleable crop like corn can be harvested three times in a year, cocoa plants take at least two years to produce fruit. It can take ten years for a plant breeder to find traits to perpetuate into the next generation.

Unless more farmers get into the chocolate trade, it looks like the world will face dire shortages, or decreased quality of one of the most popular treats.

[Image Credit: John Loo/Wikimedia Commons]