Understanding the Impact of El Niño on Cocoa Production

Chocolate lovers, brace yourselves: the sweet delight we all adore is facing a challenge – a cocoa shortage. Let’s explore how the El Niño weather phenomenon is affecting the world's cocoa crop.

Cocoa (sometimes called “cacao” – which is the exact same thing) refers to the nibs of the cocoa bean and is the main ingredient in chocolate. Cocoa is a delicate crop. It can only grow in a narrow band within 10-20 degrees of the equator called the "coffee belt". Think hot temperatures, high humidity, constant rain, shade, protection from wind, and the nurturing embrace of a rainforest environment – that's the natural home of cocoa.

The ideal conditions for cocoa growth are present in only a handful of equatorial countries, with West Africa, specifically Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, leading the charge, contributing about 70% of the world’s cocoa production.

Unfortunately, these regions are currently facing an unusually warm and dry growing season, courtesy of El Niño, a naturally occurring weather pattern. The impact? Cocoa bean crop growth is has been suffering over the last several years, leading to concerns about a shortage in the future.

Meanwhile, our collective craving for chocolate continues to rise. Global demand has soared. But the repercussions of cocoa woes aren’t immediately apparent in the marketplace —what transpires on cocoa farms takes several years to ripple into the market. This cause of year's price spike began years ago.

Cocoa beans as a commodity are traded on the open market. As each crop is harvested and beans make their way to ports, the commodity is traded. That trading is subject to the law of supply and demand. Lack of supply means increased prices. With recent poor harvests, the lack of supply has caused commodity prices to spike.

Behind the scenes, a handful of companies (some people call them "Big Chocolate") dominate cocoa trading and processing worldwide, wielding control over the vast majority of chocolate brands. For these big companies, higher cocoa prices tend to mean bad news, because it might mean that less chocolate and cocoa are consumed.

As a fine chocolate business, Cocoa Community Confections view commodity price changes differently than Big Chocolate. We embrace a "less but better" approach, focusing on crafting the finest chocolate in sustainable quantities while ensuring fair prices for cocoa farmers. We've been partners with Rainforest Alliance™ for more than a decade, and now we’re transitioning to Tony’s Open Chain, a global program dedicated to paying living wage premiums directly to cocoa farmers.

Climate change and deforestation are indeed affecting cocoa production, posing long-term challenges. To safeguard the future of cocoa, it's crucial to support the hardworking cocoa farmers, ensuring they earn a reasonable living. After all, without West Africa, there's no chocolate industry as we know it today. 

As advocates for sustainable practices, we actively participate in global initiatives like the World Cocoa Foundation and Cocoa & Forests Initiative. These efforts aim to protect forests and adapt to climate change in the cocoa sector.

We already pay a premium price for our couverture chocolate through our certification programs Rainforest Alliance and Tony’s Open Chain. Paying more for chocolate only matters if a bigger share of the price makes its way to the farm.

In response to fluctuating commodity prices, we've taken a measured approach, prioritizing not just our chocolate but also our "less is more" message – reaching as many homes as possible without sudden price increases. An accessible and affordable luxury, mindfully consumed.

Join us in our journey toward a sustainable, ethical indulgence, supporting farmers and cherishing the cocoa bean and the true value of fine chocolate.