Chocolate, a preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla seems to be a very common product to be consumed in the western civilization. Not very many people know that producing chocolate means a huge production chain. It all begins with the cultivation of the ‘Theobroma Cacao.’ This is the tree which the cacao pod grows on.
Harvesting cacao pods is extremely labor intensive. There are no machines involved. People who work on the farm are required to have extensive knowledge of cacao. The post-harvest process of the cacao pods consists fermentation, drying, roasting and winnowing. After having gone through all these steps, the cacao nibs is what remains. The cacao nibs are grinded to cocoa mass, also known as chocolate liquor. By pressing this mass, cacao butter and cacao cake are separated. The cacao cake is what we know as cacao powder. Several ingredients, for example sugar, can be added to the cacao powder to get the final product: chocolate!
Cacao producing countries.
The map below shows the global cacao producing countries.
The cacao growing regions in Africa by far have the biggest contribution in the worlds cacao production. Big producers are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. There are about 2 million small, independent family farms in Africa. These farms collectively produce 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa per year. In the graph below we can see that Africa was responsible for 71.7% of the world cocoa production in the 2011-2012 season. Ivory Coast is the largest in Africa.
A 2011 study has shown that the average income per capita in a Ghanaian cocoa household is 0.30 USD per day. This is an incredibly low income, especially because often whole families rely on this income. Another big issue is child labor. People consuming chocolate do often not realize where the cacao beans originally come from. Looking at the image below there are a few remarkable facts. Only 3% of the costs of a chocolate bar is the amount the farmer will get for cultivating cacao. What about comparing this to the unbelievable 43% of the retail and supermarket margin. There is no chocolate without a bean!
The conclusion is that the production conditions for the cacao producing countries are very poor. Currently Fair Trade chocolate is starting to become more popular. Companies producing Fair Trade chocolate strive to divide the revenues of the chocolate bar more evenly and give the farmers more profit. A lot of the farmers cultivating cacao have never tasted chocolate before, and often they do not know that chocolate is made from the cacao beans. This video shows how farmers in Ivory Coast taste chocolate for the first time in their lives.
Chocolate consuming countries.
Chocolate is mainly consumed in wealthy countries. In Switzerland the most chocolate is consumed of the whole world. With less than 8 million inhabitants Switzerland consumes 167 pounds annually, 22 pounds per person. Swiss chocolate is known as high quality chocolate. When visiting Switzerland the best souvenir to bring home is always chocolate! The choice of different kinds of chocolate is huge. Although people would think of Switzerland having a lot of luxury chocolate products (which is definitely true), a lot of big global companies sell their chocolate in Switzerland as well. Famous Swiss brands are Lindt, Cailler and Toblerone. The big company Nestlé was established in Switzerland.
Chocolate consumption is not the same everywhere. In the Western market chocolate is an impulse, self-indulgence purchase. In China chocolate is mainly a gift. China has 1 billion people, who consume 146 million pounds of chocolate annually, which is only 1.8 ounces per person! Considering the enormous economic growth that China has gone through, people tend to forget how many poor people still live on the countryside, living a very old-fashioned life. It is interesting to compare this to the American chocolate consumption, where 300 million people eat 3 billion pounds annually, which is 11.7 pounds per person.
Chocolate definitely has a dark side in consuming countries. Chocolate is a combination of sugar and fat (and sometimes salt) and definitely has its contribution to the major obesity epidemic. Childhood obesity in the US is sky rocking high and more than a third of the adults is obese.
Interview with a chocolate consuming adult.
After taking a look at the cacao producing countries and the chocolate consuming countries this is an interview with an adult, who consumes chocolate about once a week. This adult lives in a wealthy country where chocolate consumption is a very common thing.
Q1: The production of chocolate is a long process, from bean to bar. What do you know about this production process?
A1: I have been to a chocolate shop in Berlin where they had set up an exposition on the production of chocolate. What I do remember is that there were a lot of steps in the production process, and that it involved more butter and sugar than I thought.
Q2: When consuming chocolate do you think about the honesty throughout the production chain? For example how much of the profit goes to the farmers, or if any child labor was involved in the process.
A2: I do not very often think about the production chain when I buy chocolate. Although I am aware of the fact that there is a lot wrong as far as profit for the farmers is concerned, I only buy ‘honest’ products when it is presented to me directly, I do not go looking for it actively. I did not know that child labor can be involved.
Q3: When buying and consuming chocolate, do you pay attention to buying/not buying certain labels like Fair Trade, direct trade or organic products?
A3: I do pay attention to Fair Trade products, but only when I am given the obvious choice, I don’t go looking for it. In addition, I do not mind paying a bit more for a Fair Trade bar. I do not want to pay a lot more for my chocolate because it is organic or direct trade.
Q4: Why would you like to pay more for a Fair Trade bar but not for an organic or direct trade bar?
A4: Because I feel like I am helping people when I buy a Fair Trade bar. When I buy an organic or direct trade bar I feel like the extra money spend on the bar does not go to people who really need the money.
Q5: Does chocolate in any way affect your mood and what do you think is the psychological effect of chocolate? Which feelings does chocolate bring to you?
A5: Chocolate makes me feel good, I can really enjoy chocolate. It helps to get me in a better mood, although it does sometimes make me feel guilty when I eat too much, but not very often.
Q6: Do you associate chocolate with certain social occasions or celebrations?
A6: To me chocolate makes a party even better. I have a chocolate fountain, which I will use when celebrating a happy occasion.
Q7: What changes have there been throughout your life considering the look on chocolate and the consumption of chocolate?
A7: The look on chocolate has changed quite a bit since I was young. There was no such thing as Fair Trade, and nobody ever mentioned the political side of chocolate. At the same time, there was far less chocolate eaten, because it was more of a special product, with not as many different flavors and different kinds as we see nowadays.
Q8: When you think of a chocolate advertising, what would be a typical chocolate advertisement to you? Have you ever thought of the race and racism, gender and sexism in chocolate advertisements? Why do you think that stereotyping in chocolate advertisements has become so common in our society?
A8: Advertisement shows all the great things of chocolate: the taste, the good feeling it gives, the great time you have when you enjoy it. When I think of it, advertisements do often show women having a good time, or women being seductive, which is a bit disturbing in my opinion. This has become more or less the standard in our society, which is disturbing as well.
Q9: What do you consider the effect of chocolate on the health of human beings? These effects could be positive and negative.
A9: Chocolate consumption is fine when eaten in moderate quantities. It makes you feel good, and the taste is great. Of course the downside is that it certain kinds of chocolate are not very good as far as calories are concerned, since the amount of sugar and fat in chocolate.
Q10: Do you have any last thoughts about chocolate you would like to share?
A10: To me, chocolate is a very nice treat that I would not want to miss out on!
Thank you to the kind person who let me do this interview!
To me this person has a view on chocolate that a lot of people have: they know something in this industry is wrong, but they are not completely sure what it is. I predict that the chocolate industry will change through the rise of Fair Trade products. There will probably be more stringent rules and it will be interesting to see where the chocolate industry stands 10 years from now. Hopefully by then the whole world will get to enjoy this delicious treat which will be produced in a human way for everyone involved!
Lecture Slides Spring Semester, Harvard Extension School, 2015.
Dr. Carla D. Martin, Personal Communication, Harvard Extension School, Spring 2015.