Chocolate market: 3 approaches to sustainable and ethical cocoa

Published on 17 April 2023 Read 25 min

While chocolate is found in the vast majority of homes in all its forms, its cultivation is now being questioned from a socio-environmental point of view. The cultivation of the cocoa tree requires a climate with a high level of humidity and heat around 25°C, which explains why it is only cultivated in tropical countries such as the Ivory Coast or Ghana. In a period where the trend is towards local production, the global cultivation of cocoa raises questions, especially when we know that imports often come from countries where working conditions are difficult or even unethical. Thus, for both societal and environmental reasons, chocolate is at the heart of the debate. In order to respond to these issues, the actors of the market have been conducting for years a deep mutation of their sector. In this article, Alcimed comes back on the chocolate market and its societal and environmental stakes.

The chocolate market in a few figures

3,323 million euros[1] worth of chocolate were sold in supermarkets and hypermarkets in France in 2021. Sales are marked by two key periods, Christmas and Easter, which together account for almost a third of sales.

The consumption of a French person per year corresponds to 7.3 kg[1] and the bar remains the preferred format ahead of chocolate spread and chocolate bars. The French stand out for their appetite for dark chocolate, which represents 30% of consumption, compared to 5% on average in Europe[2]. Moreover, cocoa consumption in the world will have increased by 20%[3] between 2020 and 2025.

Although France is not a cocoa bean producer, it is a major processor and exports 70%[4] of its chocolate production. But then, where does all this cocoa supply necessary for production come from?

Mainly from the Ivory Coast, which alone produces 43% of the world’s cocoa. Behind it, we find Ghana (20%), Indonesia (6%), Ecuador (6%), Cameroon (5%) and Brazil (4%)[1].

It is estimated that the cultivation of cocoa in the world allows the subsistence of 40 to 50 million[2] people in the South. In France, chocolate processing represents 30,000 direct jobs in 115 companies (90% of which are SMEs)[1].

European manufacturers have little choice but to relocate cocoa cultivation, which, in addition to the transportation of the beans, has various impacts on the environment.

Rethinking the production chain to achieve sustainable cocoa farming

For many years, cocoa farming has contributed to deforestation and soil pollution, among other things.

According to the European Union and the Ivorian Ministry of Forestry, more than 19% of the forests in Côte d’Ivoire disappeared between 1960 and 2010, solely because of cocoa farming. Indeed, as with many crops, cocoa producers have been tempted for many years to clear rich forest land to develop new monoculture plantations, planting only cocoa trees. But this practice has depleted the soil and reduced the trees’ resistance to pests and diseases.

Both for the survival of the cocoa trees and to respond to current environmental issues, cultivation methods have evolved since the 1990s.

Today, agroforestry, which consists of integrating fruit trees into plantations, is gradually replacing monoculture, and helps preserve the primary forest and the soil. Reforestation programs with fruit trees provide the shade necessary for cocoa trees to grow, which increases yields and diversifies farmers’ sources of income.

To contribute to the preservation of the global cocoa business and limit their impact on the environment, manufacturers are committed. For example, Lindt & Sprüngli has set itself the goal of zero deforestation by 2025. To achieve this goal, the company is relying on several measures, including: a ban on the supply of beans from protected areas, a ban on expansion in areas defined by the High Carbon Stock Approach, the development of agroforestry and the protection, preservation and reforestation of the territory. Thus, the players in the market are putting the financial and human resources to reduce their impact on the environment and some, such as Mars, Ferrero, Lindt & Sprüngli, Cémoi and Barry Callebaut, are aiming for 100% “sustainable” cocoa.

Sustainability is not only based on the environment, but also on the social and societal aspect.

3 approaches towards sustainable and ethical cocoa farming

As for many products today, certifications and labels (Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance…) have been created to differentiate “sustainable” cocoa from classic cocoa. For example, the Rainforest Alliance label is the guarantee of more sustainability in agriculture and production, for the planet but also for the men and women of the plantations and productions. These certifications and labels meet a need for traceability and ethics, and control the environmental and societal impact of the global cocoa business in the future.

Approach n°1: eliminate child labor

On the front line, child labor is the main issue of the business. In 2018, child labor concerned nearly one child out of three[1] in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, i.e. nearly 1.5 million children.

Since the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, companies have committed to eliminating abusive child labor (carrying heavy loads, chemicals, sharp objects…).

Created in 2002 and financed in part by the chocolate industry (Nestlé, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Mars, Ferrero…), the ICI (International Cocoa Initiative) has intervened in 600 communities in the Ivory Coast and Ghana to the benefit of 682,000 children.

Learn more about the implementation of CSR >

Approach n°2: improve the living conditions of cocoa producers

The living conditions of cocoa producers and the empowerment of women are also key issues.

The small size of the farms and the low yields of cocoa crops (350 to 400 kg of beans/Ha on average) can make the living conditions of producers difficult. Programs have been launched to improve the remuneration of farmers. For example, Puratos, through its Cacao-Trace program, trains farmers to produce better quality beans, and gives them a “quality premium” that contributes to improving their quality of life.

Approach n°3: support women’s empowerment

Women make up half of the workforce, often without pay. The challenge for stakeholders in the business is to enable these women to develop food crops, i.e., crops that primarily ensure the subsistence of those who grow them. Through training and awareness-raising programs, some actors are helping these women to achieve economic independence, to set up complementary income-generating activities, and to facilitate their access to land ownership.

The chocolate sector raises a number of issues, well known to the industry, but the growing demand shows that chocolate is not about to disappear from households. In order to respond to the current challenges, a change of the cocoa industry is underway. The actors of the market seek to improve the upstream work of the farmers to allow them to work in better conditions, to produce a sustainable cocoa and a quality chocolate. Alcimed can accompany you in your projects related to the agricultural sectors, the food industry or the implementation of CSR. Do not hesitate to contact our team!

[1] Syndicat du Chocolat
[2] Caobisco (2017)
[4] PRODCOM 2020 and French Customs

About the author,

Pierre, Consultant in the Life Sciences Alcimed’s team in Lyon

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