Can LatAm Regain Choco Mkt Share Lost to Africa?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 6/10/2014 02:00:00 AM
History 101: Sharing chocos with white people wasn't such a marvy idea.
Murder, pillage, disease and conquest followed early American empires giving Europeans a taste of chocolate (see Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel for a mini-history). After the white people developed a taste for the stuff, let's just say the history of what happened to the Incas, Aztecs and others wasn't so hunky-dory as they were wiped out shortly thereafter. Let's just say the Cadbury version of chocolate history concerning the deeds of Don Hernan Cortes is, ah, whitewashed. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. 

With chocolate consumption going global, one of the trends was for Europe to become the largest consumer of it. However, since European climates proved unsuitable for cocoa growing, this proved to be something of a quandary for sourcing cocoa. The Dutch colonized Indonesia and cocoa was grown there since its climate proved to be amenable. Other Europeans followed suit: Today's largest growers trace their cocoa production to colonial times: Cote d'Ivoire (France) and Ghana (Great Britain). See the Guardian's infographic on where chocolate is produced and consumed today:

It is against this background of lost choco-hegemony to West Africa that Central and Southern American regions are attempting a comeback. First, connoisseurs of the finest European chocolates know that the best cocoa beans are grown in the place they were first "discovered." To be honest, cocoa quality is not as important for American consumers who prefer chocolates full of sugar and milk (milk chocolate) unlike European consumers who focus on the taste and texture of largely unadulterated cocoa (dark chocolate):
The cocoa beans from Central and South America are known as being of high quality — fulfilling a certain niche, especially among consumers in Europe...

But Latin America can make a dent if demand for high-quality cocoa rises. Cocoa production “could change depending on how the market evolves,” said Moises Gomez of the ICCO [International Cocoa Organization; it should be ICO then]. “Most of world demand is for normal cocoa and it comes mainly from West Africa. Fine cocoa, which accounts for five percent of demand, comes from Latin America,” Gomez said. “Europe is the biggest buyer of top-grade cocoa,” he said.

“Americans are used to chocolate with a high milk and sugar content, and for that, you do not need high-quality cocoa [read: Hersheys]. But when you want a dark cocoa with good taste, you look for cocoa from Latin America or Madagascar,” he added...

Weather conditions and soil are the things that contribute most to the taste of the various grades of cocoa, said Gomez. He said while several high grades of cocoa were planted in Africa, they were not of the same quality as those in Latin America. All the different strains, from garden variety to hybrids, grow well in Latin America. And this happens in much of the region.

Second, even the likes of the Ivory Coast and Ghana may not be able to produce enough cocoa to meet global demand as China and India become populous consumers of chocolate:
Thomas Pugh, a commodities specialist with the British investment consultancy Capital Economics, predicts a fairly strong increase in Latin American supply in the coming years. “The biggest producers will continue to be in West Africa, but the forecasts for Latin America are good,” he told AFP.

Demand for cocoa from emerging countries is booming, especially in China, said Florence Pradier, the secretary general of Paris-based chocolate association Alliance 7. That, paired with a strong resurgence in demand from traditional chocolate consumers in Europe and North America, is good news for producers. According to a recent report by the French commodity research group Cyclope, demand in Asia is also being driven by India, with the strongest growth in the world at 20-25 percent a year.

So many years after the barbarity of Hernan Cortes that's been immortalized in song, it appears the Americas are on the cusp of  cocoa comeback after being marginalized for so long. What's interesting is how Europeans prefer (Central and South) American chocolates to the sorts produced in their former West African colonies if given a choice, while average North American consumers couldn't care less about cocoa quality. As long as the stuff is milky and sweet, the Yanks will eat it. I guess geography was not arranged to suit tastes. 

Anyway, cue up the Neil Young. Cortez, what a killer:

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun.

On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls he often wondered
With the secrets of the worlds.