With Halloween behind us, the only thing many of us may remember is those extra few pieces of chocolate we guiltily snuck from the candy jar. But what about the cost of that chocolate? Did the jump in Halloween candy prices take you by surprise this year? It certainly surprised me.
It turns out the surge in prices was not only your local retailer trying to squeeze every penny out of you this holiday, but in fact the effects of climate change.1 Nearly 70% of the world’s cocoa – a key ingredient in chocolate – is supplied from West Africa’s cocoa belt. Climate change has led to an increasingly hotter, drier climate that could dramatically reduce the world’s supply of chocolate if cocoa can no longer be produced in West African countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast.2 According to a new study from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, researchers posit that higher temperatures and increased periods of drought may cause parts of the cocoa belt to become savanna by 2050 – and as researcher Christina Bunn says, “2050 is a generous estimate… most of the expected impact will happen by 2030.”3 Unless something changes, the majority of the West African belt may be unusable for cocoa farming.
So About Those Prices…
The climate in West Africa may seem worlds away, but as the cost of Halloween candy proved to us, prices are rising. The increase in retail price has varied among chocolate-makers, with some reducing the piece size and others substituting more milk chocolate for dark chocolate products.4 Still, with cocoa prices rising 40% from 2012-2014 alone, companies like Mars, Inc. have had to pass on some of this cost to us chocolate maniacs.5
Mars to the Rescue!
With $33 billion in sales in 2015, Mars is a company that has the heft to make a difference.6 One of the largest chocolate companies, Mars is feeling the effects of climate change on cocoa farming in West Africa. And better yet, Mars is doing something about it.
Cocoa farmers are at the center of the Mars supply chain. With climate change threatening the manufacturer’s ability to produce the chocolate products we know and love, Mars has committed to key initiatives in an effort to combat the grim Snickers-free future. Over five years ago, Mars enacted its “Sustainable Cocoa Initiative,” pledging to buy 100% certified cocoa by 2020 – as it stands now, it is currently the largest purchaser of certified cocoa and well on its way to the 2020 goal.7 Additionally, the initiative has led to Mars working directly with Ministers of Agriculture in Western African countries, collaborating with organizations like the World Cocoa Foundation and the United Nations to develop and enact real solutions to the cocoa problem, and investing heavily in breakthrough science like mapping the cocoa genome.8
Mars’ continued investments has led to great strides in combating the cocoa crisis. The cocoa genome project was created to decode the genome with the aim of developing trees that resist disease and drought, as well as produce more cocoa. In 2013, the project successfully sequenced the genome of the world’s most common cocoa plant and made the code publicly available.9 Since then, researchers have been hard at work to develop a more productive tree, and Mars has been working directly with West African cocoa farmers to improve farming techniques that have led to higher cocoa production on less land – reducing pressure on forests.10
Additionally, Mars hired meteorologists this fall to analyze the impacts of weather on the chocolate business. Katie Johnson, senior manager of the commercial applied research team, describes, “our meteorologists conduct analysis of weather patterns around the world to help Mars make decisions when it comes to the supply chain and sourcing of some of the ingredients for the world’s most beloved chocolates.”11 Mars’ meteorologists examine current weather patterns, and then collaborate with other departments to estimate how suppliers could be impacted by everything from a storm that could delay shipping or climate change as a whole.12
And Mars is not stopping there. Beyond its work with the cocoa industry, it set a “sustainable in a generation” goal. The company has set a zero emissions goal for its factories and offices among other targets.13 Ultimately Mars’ motivations are not selfless and by no means finished – its work is in service of preserving the cocoa supply chain and creating a more operationally efficient and sustainable business overall. Mars should, however, diversify their product offering by using carob to produce a chocolate alternative as their cocoa farming efforts may not be successful. The company is, however, leading in sustainability among its candy competitors. So next time you grab a Milky Way bar, feel a little less guilt.
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- May, Ashley. “Halloween Candy Prices Might Scare You This Year.” USA Today. Gannett, 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2016/10/19/halloween-candy-prices-might-scare-you-year/92414946/>.
- Smith, Georgina. “Chocolate Meltdown: Feeling the Heat – CIAT.” CIAT. International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 08 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <https://ciat.cgiar.org/climate-change/chocolate-meltdown-feeling-heat>.
- Smith, Georgina, “Chocolate Meltdown: Feeling the Heat – CIAT.”
- Schoen, John W. “Here’s Why Chocolate Prices Are up.” CNBC. Getty Images, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/13/why-are-chocolate-prices-jumping.html>.
- Schoen, John W. “Here’s Why Chocolate Prices Are up.”
- Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/companies/mars/>.
- “Cocoa Policy – Mars, Incorporated.” Mars, Incorporated. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://marsgcc.com/global/about-us/policies-and-practices/cocoa-policy>.
- “Cocoa Policy – Mars, Incorporated.”
- Nieburg, Oliver. “Cocoa Genetics: Mars Unlocks Sequence to Higher Yields and Tastier Chocolate.” ConfectioneryNews.com. N.p., 03 June 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.confectionerynews.com/Commodities/Cocoa-genetics-Mars-unlocks-sequence-to-higher-yields-and-tastier-chocolate>.
- Gunther, Marc. “Why Mars is a Sustainability Leader.” MarcGunther.com. N.p., 30 May 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.marcgunther.com/why-mars-is-a-sustainability-leader/>.
- Taylor, Kate. “The Smart Reason the World’s Largest Candy Maker Is Hiring Meteorologists.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/mars-chocolate-hires-meteorologists-to-deal-with-climate-change-2016-9>.
- Taylor, Kate. “The Smart Reason the World’s Largest Candy Maker Is Hiring Meteorologists.”
- Gunther, Marc. “Why Mars is a Sustainability Leader.”