David Haydon" />
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Monday, September 25, 2023


Chocoholics beware

Anthropology senior Jamie Lancaster enjoys a piece of chocolate in The Daily Cougar newsroom. Due to the Ivory Coast’s recent export ban on cocoa beans, Lancaster will soon have to pay a pretty penny to get his chocolate fix. | Emily Chambers/The Daily Cougar

If you’ve been to the UC convenience store lately, or even glanced at one of the often empty vending machines on campus, you may have noticed the rising cost of a chocolate bar.

The 2008 recession is partially to blame for the rise in food costs, as is the price of fuel for transporting it, but there is a larger problem for chocolate: Cocoa bean exports have been cut.

Tensions in the Ivory Coast, the West African nation that grows a third of the world’s supply of cocoa beans, have led to a ban on cocoa exports. Cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast are still arriving in ports — for now.

It’s the age-old economy line of supply and demand. The demand for chocolate is never-ending. The supply of cocoa beans is decreasing. The result is more expensive chocolate. This is something chocolate producers like Rick Mast, the co-founder of Mast Brothers Chocolate, already know.

“It is, in my mind, a bit absurd to expect chocolate to be at every gas station for a buck, where here it is, this exotic product that’s only grown around the equator,” Mast said in an NPR interview. “It’s not grown in Iowa, you know what I mean? It should be thought of as an affordable luxury, as something that’s decadent.”

So, as the chocolate producers point out, the rising cost of production will filter down to consumers. In a nutshell, we’re going to have to pay more for chocolate.

Even if Ivory Coast’s export suddenly lifted, the problem with cocoa wouldn’t be solved. Cocoa supply depends mainly on backbreaking work — usually in the form of child labor. Cocoa beans are produced mainly near the equator, in Africa and South America. Cocoa beans as a result should cost far more than they are bought and sold for.

Alternatives to the unfairly-produced cocoa, like fair-trade sustainable cocoa beans, cost double or triple the price of normal cocoa beans. That would still mean chocolate would cost as much as caviar.

A growing alternative to the cocoa crisis is to change chocolate bars into chocolate flavored bars. Milk chocolate has to have cocoa in it, but putting a pinch of cocoa butter mixed with plenty of vegetable oil and flavoring saves money. The Hershey Company has been doing this for years.

The problem is that the FDA doesn’t allow The Hershey Company to call those products milk chocolate. As a result, companies like Hershey get away with saying the product is chocolate favored, made with chocolate or chocolaty.

The practice is underhanded but completely legal as long as the packaging doesn’t say the product is made with cocoa butter. Another tactic involved changing the definition of chocolate to include lesser ingredients, but the FDA rejected the proposal.

Chocolate is a perfect example of the unfair exchange between first world nations and underdeveloped countries. Our clothing is inexpensive because of sweatshops. Our electronics don’t cost much because of underpaid workers in China. We get our chocolate for cheap because someone else suffers for it.

Chocolate is catching up to the times. The loss of the 50 cent chocolate bar may be lamentable, but consumers should ask if cheap chocolate was worth the cost.

David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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