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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate 323

schwit1 writes There's no easy way to say this: You're eating too much chocolate, all of you. And it's getting so out of hand that the world could be headed towards a potentially disastrous (if you love chocolate) scenario if it doesn't stop. ... Chocolate deficits, whereby farmers produce less cocoa than the world eats, are becoming the norm. Already, we are in the midst of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years. It also looks like deficits aren't just carrying over from year-to-year—the industry expects them to grow. Last year, the world ate roughly 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. By 2020, the two chocolate-makers warn that that number could swell to 1 million metric tons, a more than 14-fold increase; by 2030, they think the deficit could reach 2 million metric tons.
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:16PM (#48397295)

    Chocolate rations have been increased to 20 grams!

    • by Scarletdown ( 886459 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:25PM (#48397347) Journal

      I could have sworn it was being reduced to 20 grams...

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      Same low price! Handy snack size!

      • Stop giving them ideas.

        Also, if the snack size becomes the regular size, I can't wait to see the mini version made for Halloween.

    • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @03:08PM (#48397625)
      I'm in the chocolate industry and own a small high end chocolate company in Utah where we make all of our chocolate from scratch (ie beans) and have been at the forefront of the American craft chocolate movement and are a founding member of the Craft Chocolate Makers of America . From what I've seen is that the big issue is that the farmers are not getting paid nearly enough. Cocoa has been a great trade good because if you keep it dry and the bugs out it will last for years. This is great for remote impoverished areas because the farmers can save their cocoa and send it out on the next mule train.

      Cocoa is very labor intensive way more than you can reasonably expect and today these remote communities have roads to them. Farmers can now grow bananas, pineapples, passion fruit etc for a lot less labor and have it at port in just a few days. For this reason many cocoa farmers are cutting down their trees and replacing them with crops that are less labor intensive. Additionally the youth are looking to jobs in oil (such as in Trinidad) or in the cities.

      What foods are similar to cocoa in terms of labor? Truffles, saffron, vanilla, good cheeses etc. all of which are very expensive comparatively. Nobody faults these for not being $3/lb or less

      What's the solution? To pay the farmers more. Right now, Cocoa sells for approx $2800/ton and in my opinion it should be closer to $10,000 - $20,000 / ton. This means that a chocolate bar would sell for $6-10 depending on packaging. (We currently sell chocolate we make from cocoa from Chuao Venezuela where we pay $5.50/lb for the cocoa where the London market was around $1.40/lb so we paid the farmers four times the market rate.)

      Don't be wooed by so called "fair trade" certification. When I see that, I know the farmers just got screwed. Why? With Fair trade the farmers get a premium of $150-$200/ton -- a price increase of 5%. On the other hand, the FT organization charges the farmers between $2500 - $10000/year for the certification and in personal experience I've only seen it at $10,000 / year. At the same time they charge $0.10/lb ($220/ton) to whoever imports it for it to maintain its FT certification and another $0.10/lb for thr use of the logos and trademarks. So FT gets $440/ton and the farmers get $200. Not so fair. Plus don't forget the farmers certification and of course the companies need to be certified too. Oh yea. The inspectors are $750/day plus travel.

      So what to do? Buy good chocolate. A bar should be anywhere from $5-$15. You can't make really good chocolate without using great cocoa. You can't get great cocoa without paying a significant premium to the farmers -- often 2-4 times the NY or London terminal price. So you know they are paid well. You simply can't have a $1-2 chocolate bar after if has been run though the supply chain (stores, distributors, the factory, various cocoa brokers, etc.) and know the farmers were paid well no matter the certification.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2014 @03:25PM (#48397721)

        I own a small high end chocolate company, and I think chocolate should be more expensive.

        Didn't see THAT one coming a mile away. Nope. Nosiree...

        • by Sabriel ( 134364 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @12:12AM (#48400091)

          Maybe you were just trying for a Funny, but that just makes it even more depressing that someone modded you Insightful.

          Because GP, as a chocolate maker, was saying that _cocoa_ should be more expensive. Does that mean the average price of chocolate would rise? Yes. Does that mean the GP's wholesale and retail price would rise? Maybe, maybe not, because they're already paying the farmers well above the typical rates.

          Regardless; when one of the "middlemen" between you and the farmers, tells you that the farmers are getting stiffed by the global system that supposedly exists to protect those farmers, you should pay more attention.

        • by Skylinux ( 942824 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @04:54AM (#48400639) Homepage

          Everyone who voted insightful REALLY needs to go to one of those companies and try good chocolate.
          I don't each much chocolate so I only but the HQ stuff now. Milka, Mars or even Ritter - they suck compared to a good, higher coca content chocolate.
          I get mine from a shop selling coffee because just a chocolate, average coffee tastes .... less then average.

          You only live once. Stop stuffing low quality shit into your mouth!

      • How much do you think a standard Hershey Bar (plain, 43g) should cost in $USD? Genuinely curious.
        • by Dr.Dubious DDQ ( 11968 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @03:58PM (#48397865) Homepage
          "How much do you think a standard Hershey Bar[...]"

          What does that have to do with anything? We're talking about CHOCOLATE.

          (Somebody was bound to post that, it might as well be me...)

          /(adjusts monocle)

        • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @04:08PM (#48397923)

          I and a number of other small chocolate makers have looked at what cocoa _should_ cost. Cocoa beans IMHO should cost at least double if not three to four times what they currently do.

          Now with a Hershey's Bar, a good portion of the bar is sugar and milk. Because of this, there is very little "cocoa" (the real part of chocolate in chocolate) in a Hershey's chocolate bar. This was the big innovation that Milton Hershey made. Chocolate was too expensive and was the domain of the rich and so he in some ways invented the technique of watering it down with immense quantities of sugar and milk. If I remember right, a Hershey's bar is only 15% cocoa (not counting the cocoa butter which is added to reduce the viscosity of the added milk and sugar. I don't know what Hershey's pays for these ingredients but I can get sugar for $0.50-$0.60/lb offsets the price significantly for a bar like Hershey's since there is so much of it. But I'd bet to get the prices right you'd probably be needing to have a Hershey's bar cost at least 2-3 times what they currently do. I'd have to really dig into the numbers closely to really make a more accurate stab at it.

          Along the line of your question though, Hershey's buys some of the worst quality cocoa (of which there is a lot of) and pays prices that are close to rock bottom. So they are paying around $1.30/lb right now. There is a 20-25% loss after you remove the shell and moisture evaporation during roasting. I've tasted the grade of cocoa that they buy and it is spitting bad (ie, you'll spit it out almost immediately. Better qualities of cocoa taste significantly better. So I hope this helps a bit.

        • by RDW ( 41497 )

          How much do you think a standard Hershey Bar (plain, 43g) should cost in $USD? Genuinely curious.

          I'm no chocolate snob, but you couldn't pay me to eat that stuff. Who ever thought it would be a good idea to add sour milk to perfectly adequate chocolate? It tastes like they've mixed it with baby vomit. As an emergency measure, all cocoa intended for Hershey's production should be seized and used to establish a National Cocoa Reserve. Only manufacturers with a track record of selling an edible product (like Ghirardelli) would then be allowed to draw on it. Sound reasonable?

      • $5-$15 for a candy bar? Are you high?

        Go ahead. Price your everyday 3 Musketeers at $5. Or your high end froufrou gourmet fair trade locally produced specialty market candy bar at $15+.
        How long before bankruptcy?
        • Two things cross my mind;

          One, it's amazing the things some people would rather have than money. People pay through the nose for tiny portions of animal products most people would consider dog food. I can totally see enough people buying chocolate at $0.40/gram or more (resulting in $15+ bars) regardless of ACTUAL quality. It's all branding.

          Two, if there really does end up being a global cocoa shortage, you might not have much of a choice.

          • by gtall ( 79522 )

            I can totally see most people not having the jack to pay for $15 candy bars. They'll use something else for their sweet tooth. The high end producers might survive if their current market is small enough and well enough heeled. The rest go bye-bye.

          • One, it's amazing the things some people would rather have than money.

            Money is pretty useless. You can't eat it or shelter yourself from rain with it. I'd rather have almost anything than money. The relevant question is, between two things (including potential future things) I can have rather than money, which do I prefer?

          • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @04:36PM (#48398045)

            I agree. Chocolate was once the domain of the rich and while Milton Hershey commoditized it by adding immense amounts of sugar and milk, I feel convinced it will some day become a specialty product once again that is more of a rare treat rather than the everyday snack.

            Here is how it works in terms of labor:
            The cocoa trees are highly disease susceptible so there is a lot more work that goes into keeping your cocoa plantation in good shape than say apples or oranges. There is a production of about 1MT / acre of cocoa per year so the land doesn't produce very much per acre as you might expect. Not all the cocoa comes into ripeness at the same time (unlike apples, oranges, etc.) so the farmer has to walk the plantation every few days harvesting each cocoa pod by hand one at a time as each pod becomes ripe. Each cocoa pod equates to about one chocolate bar and must be hand cut from the tree (not picked). The pods are then taken to a central area where they are split by hand and the beans removed and the central stalk taken out again all by hand. The beans are then put into wooden fermentation boxes (3 foot square) where they are fermented typically 5-7 days depending on variety. Each day the beans must be taken out of the boxes, clumps broken up and\ turned over, and then put back in so that they ferment rather than rot. Finally, they must be dried which takes another 5-7 days where they are put out in the sun in the morning and brought back in when it looks like it might rain or in the evening. Some farmers turn the beans every hour. The final price? $1.30/lb Let's look at pecans. The trees are a lot easier to grow, very disease resistant (comparatively) and they are harvested by a vehicle driving up to the tree, grabbing it and shaking it until all the pecans fall out and then they go to the next tree. The price? $4.50/lb if I buy it 1,000/lbs at a time.

            Given the labor economics, the amount of cocoa will reduce until the price of the chocolate goes up enough to support higher prices for the farmers. This will happen whether we like it or not. This will also continue to happen as the 3rd world countries industrialize and less labor intensive forms of jobs are available such as working oil fields, mines, and other blue collar and white collar jobs in the various cities.

            • by GNious ( 953874 )

              Curious - was recalling attempts to redefine "Chocolate", to deal with the falling availability, and increase in price.
              If this goes forward, wont we just see candy-bars with effectively little-to-no cocoa content, being sold as Chocolate?

              Side-note: I've had chocolate bars in the US (random stuff bought at e.g. 7-11 and Walmart - I suspect the US already messed up the definition of "Chocolate" long time ago.
              Disclaimer: I live in Brussels, and pay several times the prices I saw in the US, for my chocolate whe

        • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @04:21PM (#48397979)

          Keep in mind that a 3 Musketeers bar is mostly sugar. There isn't much chocolate in it at all. There is just a thin shell of chocolate on the outside (predominately). That chocolate is very sweet. I'd bet it contains no more than 20-30% cocoa. (Our milk chocolate is 35% cocoa which is higher than most.) Most of the rest is sugar. (There is some cocoa butter which sells now for about $4.70/lb as the market is up for cocoa butter right now -- conversely to powder which is down as they move inversely to each other for reasons I've never quite understood.)

          This is one thing we have a hard time communicating to chefs. They don't always understand that very good quality chocolate is a lot more affordable than they think. The price per pound is higher -- sometimes a lot higher. At the same time, there often is very little chocolate in the chocolate dessert once you've added flour, eggs, milk, cream, sugar, etc. So they can improve the quality of their dessert --- sometimes significantly -- without as much added price as you'd normally think since the chocolate is diluted by so many other ingredients.

          Part of the problem is that there is a mindset that cocoa and chocolate are commodities in the same way that flour and sugar are rather than heavily labor intensive products that should be compared more closely to truffles, vanilla, fine cheeses, etc.all of which are typically carefully handcrafted products in much the same way that cocoa is.

          About the locally produced bar -- As I said, you can't make good quality chocolate without good quality cocoa. You can't get good quality cocoa without paying the farmers significantly more. Hence you can not have a "cheap" high quality chocolate where the farmers were paid well. This doesn't always mean that an expensive bar is made with chocolate where the farmers were paid fairly for their cocoa. We all can think of products that were way overpriced for crap. So in general you can have overly priced bad quality chocolate but you can't have under priced good quality chocolate simply because good quality beans are expensive. Pay attention to the quality --- not the price. The price though will follow the quality.

          • Reading your comments reminds me of why I come to slashdot in the first place, so firstly - thank you

            Secondly; I'm a huge fan of chocolate - I mean, who isn't - and I want to know which brand of chocolate I ought to be buying. Living in NZ means I'm probably not going to be a customer of yours, so what do you suggest? Cadbury's? Whittakers? Green & Black's? Someone else that I've not heard of?

          • by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @09:46PM (#48399587)
            I'd say chocolate is more like coffee. There are a few snobs who will happily pay incredible prices for what they're told is the best quality, a lot of people who want something that tastes right, and the majority that have never tasted it without drowning it in milk and sugar.
      • by Imbrondir ( 2367812 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @04:25PM (#48398005)

        Price of any stock will go up when the demand is higher than the supply. And if supplier business is truly not currently economically viable, less fields will be used for cocoa, supply will go down, and price will go up again. No need to talk about what one ethically "should" pay for it.

      • Truffles, saffron, vanilla, good cheeses etc. all of which are very expensive comparatively.

        In fact, very few people (globally) have the privilege of eating actual vanilla!

        The aggregate global demand for real vanilla is estimated at 2,000 MTs per year, primarily for high-quality vanilla flavoring. Between 1965 and 1989, world consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2 percent. Between 1980 and 1989, demand expanded rapidly particularly in the United States, where it grew at 7 percent a year in volum

      • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @05:49PM (#48398411)

        So what to do? Buy good chocolate. A bar should be anywhere from $5-$15. You can't make really good chocolate without using great cocoa. You can't get great cocoa without paying a significant premium to the farmers -- often 2-4 times the NY or London terminal price. So you know they are paid well. You simply can't have a $1-2 chocolate bar after if has been run though the supply chain (stores, distributors, the factory, various cocoa brokers, etc.) and know the farmers were paid well no matter the certification.

        Correct. The problem is not that there is a coach shortage but that there is a shortage of cheap cocoa. High end producers who want to make good chocolate pay a premium and get what they need. Mars, which doesn't really produce chocolate but a brown substance to cover filings, can't.

  • Panic! (Score:5, Funny)

    by mean pun ( 717227 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:18PM (#48397303)

    Forget Ebola, forget IS, forget running out of IPv4 addresses, finally a real reason to panic.

    So go ahead, make the most of it!

    • But they have not yet told us everything...

      We are also out of coffee... []

    • Don't forget Ebola. The Ivory Coast grows a huge amount of the world's cocoa. It is right next door to Liberia. Most of the labor to harvest the cocoa crop is migrant labor from Liberia. Ivory Coast has closed its border with Liberia in response to the Ebola. So, the cocoa crop there is not going to be harvested unless the growers figure out another source of cheap labor. Stock up on chocolate now.

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:19PM (#48397309)

    "There's no easy way to say this: You're eating too much chocolate, all of you."

    My dentist has been telling me this for years. So has my wife. Do you think they're seeing each other?

  • by preaction ( 1526109 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:22PM (#48397329)

    Chocolate prices rise, people have larger incentive to grow cacao. I'm failing to see what the issue here is.

    • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:26PM (#48397357) Homepage Journal

      I'm guessing that the problem here is that there can either be executive salaries for chocolate (and coffee) companies in the US, or there can be adequate revenue for sustainable chocolate (and coffee) agriculture outside the US.

      Of course we know which is more important.

    • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:28PM (#48397377)

      More like people have larger incentives to adulterate chocolate. This is how free market usually works.

    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      So only the rich will get to eat chocolate and drink coffee ?

      Sure. That will solve the problem, right ?

      Personally, I was kind of hoping at least solving the child slavery problem of cocoa production: []

      This could be a solution, but sounds like it will take a lot of time, even if we don't run out of chocolate:
      "In 2012, Ferrero and Mars promised that they will end cocoa slavery by 2020"

    • Except that cocoa doesn't grow anywhere. And the places that it does grow have just been given another kick in the pants with Ebola (as it they needed it). Now, there are a couple of ways to deal with the problem. Quit eating chocolate is one way, but that's crazy talk. Figure out how to grow the trees in other, more desirable places. That's likely to require Evil GMO type technology and I'm rather sure that movements are afoot to do exactly that. We could, perhaps, use a bit of enlightened self inter

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        "We could, perhaps, use a bit of enlightened self interest and work on the Ebola epidemic, work on the virus that is decimating the crop, work on creating an infrastructure in those countries so they can move themselves out the shithole that everyone has managed to create over there."

        The U.S. is already doing this as well as the Western nations. Even China has anted up a pittance. You know it is serious when China decides to fund something with no immediate payback.

    • This. []
  • Cocoa futures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:27PM (#48397369)

    It's probably worth mentioning here that Mars, Inc. is one of the big players in the Cocoa futures market. This is not investment advice, but if you invest in cocoa futures based on this article, you would be making a bet based on a story from someone who hopes to make money off of you.

    • Re:Cocoa futures (Score:5, Interesting)

      by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:36PM (#48397441)
      They are a big player, because they need a lot of chocolate, and futures help to manage their acquisition prices. Of course, they could try to play with the market, but they'll risk alienating their chocolate eating customers, so it's not clear that this would be in their advantage.
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        They are a big player, because they need a lot of chocolate, and futures help to manage their acquisition prices. Of course, they could try to play with the market, but they'll risk alienating their chocolate eating customers, so it's not clear that this would be in their advantage.

        Well, of course. They are the sort of player the futures markets were invented for (they KNOW they will need cocoa in the future, they KNOW more or less how much, why not hedge the price if the opportunity presents itself?). It's just my cynical side wakes up whenever I hear a big futures player start jawboning the market.

      • They do play the market. Of course, they may not do this transparently or directly as a lot of cocoa is bought though traders who set up various hedges to ensure the stability of the price. So while I'm sure that they play the market some, it is more likely that most of their cocoa is hedged by various traders that they work with. (A friend is VP of the American wing of one of the world's largest cocoa trading houses.)
  • by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:29PM (#48397379)

    So, kind of an obvious question. How are we covering the deficit? If we are eating more than is being produced, how is that possible? Are we tapping into some big strategic cocoa reserve that is slowly dwindling?

    I did quickly RTFA, but neither mentioned anything about this.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:30PM (#48397397)

      Simple, the Federal Reserve just prints more chocolate.

      Cocoatative Easing they call it.

      • I wonder if there is a 'National Strategic Chocolate Reserve'. Its a proven morale booster and reward system. Might be handy to have a lot of it on hand in times of crises.
    • According to this EU Report [] from 1997, there was at that point in time a 1,250,000 tonne reserve of cocoa (50% of production), and the estimated consumption deficit for 1996-7 was 225,000 tonnes.

      It looks to me like cocoa deficits are not new, and that the industry already uses large reserves to ensure continued supply until such time as higher prices increase production. Unless they are suggesting some other change, such as climate, will prevent new supply I can't see a long-term issue other than price fluc

    • by jandar ( 304267 )


      $ echo 1 >/proc/sys/vm/overcommit_chocolate

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      If I had to guess, I would bet that sugar or corn syrup is being used as a chocolate extender.

  • How is this supposed to work? Are they just printing more cocoa beans?

    I can imagine demand rising a lot, but unless there are huge cocoa reserves
    somewhere (which I doubt in the case of a perishable) in the order of multiple
    yearly harvests (global production seems to be somewhere around four million
    tonnes), I can't see how this demand is going to be met with actual chocolate.
    • Re:Deficit eating (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:53PM (#48397539)

      The deficit they're talking about is around 1% to 2% of the annual production. Assuming that you sell the reserves prior to selling the new crops, and put the unsold new crops in reserve, the reserves could last for decades with none of the stock being over a year old.

      Of course that is a highly simplified view, but it does allow for multi-year deficits without actually running out of cocoa. Of course a low reserve also means that there could be serious problems if the yields are particularly bad one year. (But at least it's just cocoa. A staple crop would be an entirely different issue.)

      • The deficit they're talking about is around 1% to 2% of the annual production.

        Right now, yes. The deficit they are talking about is 25%-50% of the annual production.

        I can't see this working for more than a handful of years even under the assumption of large
        stockpiles - "rolling reserves" attenuate the problem of age, but not the one of consumption.

  • by Scarletdown ( 886459 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @02:30PM (#48397389) Journal

    They could alleviate some of this problem by contacting the people who run Trader Joe's. They have this one dark chocolate bar (can't recall the name of it) that is so nasty and bitter, that it is inedible completely (unless you dip it in honey, then it is barely tolerable). It is worse than baking chocolate and is actually sold as if it is intended to be eaten like a normal bar of chocolate. If they just full stop quit producing that travesty, perhaps that could free up chocolate resources for other uses for perhaps another year or so.

  • If the price of cocoa was exploding, then people would plant them. And yet the price barely went from 1500$ per tonnes in 2005, to a spike of 3000$ between 2009-2011 and now is down to 2000$ per tonnes. So if there is cocoa beans missing , why is the price going down ? I am willing to bet that there is some non-free-market shenanigan going on here. Otherwise as cocoa goes missing the producer would get better price, and more people would plant them.
  • Newsflash! The farmers can now make more on growing cocoa instead of opium because the price of chocolate has risen, whilst the price on drugs is declining. The war on drugs is won by market trends and not with guns.
  • The size of deficit is not terribly useful without knowing the size of the stock available. How much is there sitting around to be eaten?
  • Why do you think Mars is an acronym?

  • I have a strong suspicion that the many resource depletion posts we see on here employ faulty forecasting techniques.

    In this case, the article never mentions anything about how prices adjust to:
    -supply constraints

    It's through prices that all those things communicate and avoid dire situations.

  • by excelsior_gr ( 969383 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @03:05PM (#48397617)

    I bet the US have "strategic military reserves" or something stacked up somewhere. As is usual in such cases, however, a conflict will break out in Europe... The pleasing thing is that the Swiss don't get to play neutral this time!

  • since you make your candy bars 10% smaller every year (and charge the same price if not more)

  • Severe munchies in some states.
  • by TheRhinoplast ( 3270849 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @03:57PM (#48397857)
    Tomorrow: Mars announces Soylent Brown
  • Seriously, these companies should be working on the cacao plant to get it to grow in other environments. Right now, it is grown in many locations that are ran by drug lords, gangs, etc.
    However, it is pricy enough that it could be grown in greenhouses further north.
  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Sunday November 16, 2014 @04:47PM (#48398119)
    So you're saying we're at peak chocolate now? Can't we just build pipelines to get the crude into our factories? Maybe use solar energy in it's production?
  • by Minupla ( 62455 ) <> on Sunday November 16, 2014 @05:22PM (#48398273) Homepage Journal

    My Wife's response:

    "OK that's it, I'm cutting you and the kid off. More for me!!!"


  • by Katatsumuri ( 1137173 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @05:11AM (#48400687)
    Wait, there's chocolate in Mars bars? I'm shocked.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.