The future may be bitter for chocolate lovers unless cocoa producers step up their output dramatically to satisfy an expected surge in demand from emerging market countries, an industry executive warns.
Juergen Steinemann, head of Barry Callebaut, the leading supplier of cocoa and chocolate to manufacturers and food professionals, doesn't hide his concern despite the Swiss-based company's current sweet performance.
Barry Callebaut has positioned itself well to benefit from growth in emerging markets, where its sales jumped nearly a fifth last year and now account for a quarter of overall sales.
But if consumers in emerging markets quickly develop a sweet tooth for chocolate, a severe shortage of cocoa beans could develop.
At the current moment consumers in emerging markets eat just 50 grams of chocolate per person per year, compared with European and US consumers who gobble up 10 to 12 kilos per person.
Steinemann said even an increase of average annual consumption per head from 50 grams to two kilos in emerging markets would put a major strain on supplies of the cocoa beans that are the key ingredient in chocolate.
Production of cocoa beans is forecast to fall short of demand for a second year running, although the International Cocoa Organization estimates that world output will rise to 4.104 million tonnes this year from 3.942 million tonnes last year.
Barry Callebaut, which processes nearly a quarter of the world's cocoa beans, estimates that output needs to rise to five million tonnes by 2020 to meet the growth in demand.
"If we don't have more (a shortage) could happen," Steinemann told journalists during a recent visit to Paris.
"This is why we better overdo, rather than not enough," he added.
The answer to the question of how to get such an increase in output is not so easy, however.
Even with the price of cocoa beans jumping by nearly a third over the past year, farmers prefer growing palm or bananas, noted Barry Callebaut's vice president, Philippe Janvier.
Expanding land under cultivation wouldn't be a quick solution as it takes about seven years before you can harvest beans.