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We're Calling Bullshit on the Looming Chocolate Doomsday

Over the past few weeks, the internet has proliferated with stories announcing the end of chocolate as we know it. Don't believe the hype.
December 11, 2014, 8:45pm

Last month, a spate of news articles declared the imminent demise of chocolate. Bloomberg deemed the candy "the world's most endangered treat"; The Guardian advised stockpiling "crates of Snickers for doomsday"; Forbes sounded the siren of "the great chocolate shortage." But according to an expert at the world's leading cocoa research organizations, all these stories from reliable outlets are bullshit.

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"Currently, the world is safe for chocolate," says Michael Segal, media officer for the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), which is based in London. "There is not a big possibility of any major problems."

Segal's statement flies in the face of many of the findings expressed in the aforementioned news articles, which variously cited cocoa diseases, drought, and even a growing consumer taste for cocoa-heavy dark chocolate as reasons for a shortage of the good sweet stuff. And the predictions, in terms of the numbers, were extreme, with many outlets citing a shortfall of two million tons by 2030.

As a result of the shortage, the articles warned, chocolate as we know it would change completely. Chocolate makers, having to craft their product out of a rapidly diminishing amount of cocoa, would stretch their supplies with vegetable oil, resulting in greasy, low-quality bars. They'd pack their chocolates with nougat, nuts, and other fillers, making basic chocolate a thing of the past. And the sizes of the bars would shrink, but become more expensive. The media would have us believe that the pure, simple enjoyment of one of mankind's favorite foods was about to become a thing of the past.

The reports were so alarming, and so off base, that the ICCO put together a November 21 press release debunking nearly all the doomsday proclamations. Drought in West African cocoa-producing countries such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana, as well as diseases such as "frosty pod" and "witches' broom" that attack cocoa plants are legitimate concerns, Segal says, but they just aren't threatening enough to account for such dire predictions.

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"These are serious issues and they need to be addressed," he says, "but we don't see any of these impacting, in an enormous way, on the market in the near future." The ICCO's press release states that fears of a worldwide chocolate shortage are "overstated in the extreme."

"We routinely track the market—that's what we do all day here," Segal says. "And we don't see any significant supply deficit in 2020, or in any of the years going up to 2020."

Using ICCO findings from a comprehensive June report on the state of the cocoa industry, the organization's press release shoots down many of the media's apocalyptic claims. The 2014 cocoa harvest, which wrapped up in September, resulted in a production surplus, with Ivory Coast and Ghana—which together produce over 70 percent of the world's cocoa—each posting record harvests. Prices for cocoa beans historically fluctuate, the press release states, and current prices actually fall below the historical median. And if prices do go up, farmers will respond by expanding their plantations in order to earn more money, thereby producing the extra chocolate that consumers are clamoring for.

According to Segal, the internet path of misinformation stemmed from one source: a November 15 Washington Post blog post entitled "The World's Biggest Chocolate Maker Says We're Running Out of Chocolate." In it, author Roberto A. Ferdman cited chocolate deficit statistics from Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut—problem was, those statistics were way out of date, from 2012.

"They used some very old and fairly dodgy information," he says. "And then they extraoplated that information to project how many tons of deficit would accumulate each year. But those predictions are basically meaningless when calculated that way. Basically, the story is nonsense."

It seems as though the dozens of media outlets that picked up the Post story should have done their homework: there's no need to stockpile those Snickers, after all.