Friday, July 25, 2014

"I, Chocolate". Why is chocolate so cheap when SO MANY people have to get paid to get it to us?

I cannot answer that question. No one can (we can only suppose).  It is part of the miracle that is markets operating in as free an environment as possible.

The World Cocoa Foundation has this terrific report on the state of the Cocoa/Chocolate market.

One section of the report serves as a reminder of just how difficult and complex it is to bring a seemingly simple product to market for the masses to enjoy at a relatively low price.  If you start to list out ALL the steps and cooperation that is necessary to complete production it is mind boggling.

Read all the steps involved...and these are just an overview and only scratch the surface.  Many other steps and processes are not accounted for.

(Go here for an explanation of "I, Pencil" and "I, Smartphone")

Meanwhile after you read this think about it the next time you consume a good (durable or non-durable) and make a mental list of the processes involved in getting it to you.  You will run out of mental capacity before you run out of supply chain steps.  :)

Cocoa Value Chain

Growing: Cocoa trees grow on small farms in tropical environments,
within 15-20 degrees of latitude from the equator. Cocoa is a delicate
and sensitive crop, and farmers must protect trees from wind, sun,
pests, and disease. With proper care, cocoa trees begin to yield pods
at peak production levels by the fifth year, and they can continue at
this level for ten years.

Harvesting: Ripe pods may be found throughout the continuous
growing season; however, most countries have two peak production
harvests per year. Changes in weather patterns can dramatically affect
harvest times and yields, causing fluctuations from year to year.
Farmers remove pods from the trees using long-handled steel tools.
Pods are collected and split open with a sturdy stick or machete, and
the beans inside are removed. A farmer can expect 20 to 50 beans per
pod, depending on the variety of cocoa. Approximately 400 beans are
required to make one pound of chocolate.

Fermenting and Drying: Farmers pack the fresh beans into boxes or
heap them into piles covered with mats or banana leaves. The layer of
pulp that naturally surrounds the beans heats up and ferments the
beans. Fermentation lasts three to seven days, and it is the critical
step that produces the familiar chocolate flavor. The beans then dry
for several days in the sun or under solar dryers.

Marketing: After the dried beans are packed into sacks, the farmer
sells them to a buying station or local agent, who transports the bags
to an exporting company. The exporter inspects the cocoa and
transports it to a warehouse near a port.

Packing and Transporting: The exporter ships the beans to the
processing location, where the cocoa is moved to a pier warehouse
until needed. Details of export process vary by country. The buyer
conducts a quality check to accept delivery and the cocoa is stored
until requested by the processor or manufacturer. Trucks or trains
carry the cocoa in large tote bags or loose in the trailer to the
manufacturer’s facility, on a “just-in-time” basis.

Roasting and Grinding: Before processing, the beans are thoroughly
inspected and cleaned. The inside of the cocoa bean is called the nib.
Depending on the manufacturer’s preferences, beans can be roasted
whole, or the nib can be roasted alone. Once the beans have been
shelled and roasted (or roasted and shelled), the nib is ground into a
paste. The heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter in
the nib to melt, creating “cocoa liquor.”
Cocoa liquor does not contain alcohol and is solid at room
temperature. It can be further refined, sold as unsweetened baking
chocolate, or used in chocolate manufacturing.

Pressing: The cocoa liquor is fed into hydraulic presses that divide
liquor into cocoa butter and cocoa cakes. The cocoa cake can be sold
into the generic cocoa cake market, or ground into a fine powder.
The processor may pre-treat the cocoa liquor with an alkali solution
(alkalizing), which reduces acidity. This treatment is known as
“dutching” and produces Dutch processed cocoa when pressed.
Alkalized liquor becomes darker, develops a more robust chocolate
flavor, and stays in suspension longer in liquids such as milk.

Chocolate Making: To make chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with
cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes milk. The mixture is poured into
conches—large agitators that stir and smooth the mixture under heat.
Generally, the longer chocolate is conched, the smoother it will be.
Conching can last from a few hours to three full days. After conching,
the liquid chocolate may be shipped in tanks or tempered and poured
into block molds for sale to confectioners, dairies, or bakers.
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