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Getting accurate data about the fine cocoa market isn’t easy, as Dr Carla Martin* explained

As C&CI has reported, the craft chocolate or ‘bean to bar’ market is growing rapidly from a small base, but how many producers of fine cocoa are there?

To get a better idea about how many producers are involved in growing fine cocoa, C&CI spoke to Dr Carla Martin*, Founder and Executive Director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) who also lectures in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Dr Martin told C&CI that one of the most consistent questions she is asked is “Do you have any statistics on the craft chocolate market?”

However, providing a simple answer to this question is a challenge due to the niche character of craft chocolate and specialty cacao. As she wrote recently**, this is because the market currently lacks an industry definition of craft chocolate; standards for defining specialty or fine cacao; differentiation from or within the so-called premium chocolate sector; data collection and verifiability on any of the above; transparency into cocoa and chocolate production size and specialty pricing at the level of individual companies; and institutional resources to support collecting and publishing any of these statistics.

Size is only part of the equation

As Dr Martin noted, the cocoa-chocolate industry tends to differentiate between craft chocolate makers and industrial chocolate manufacturers based on production size and scale. But size is just one part of the complex equation of craft value and an inadequate measure for our purposes. In fact, it is important to acknowledge that the application of business and success metrics derived from large-scale industrial chocolate production might never be a good fit for the craft sector.

Of course, without specialty cocoa producers, the craft chocolate sector would be something else entirely. Working with several constraints, Dr Martin has calculated some basic metrics related to the scale of the specialty cocoa market.

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) Ad Hoc Panel on Fine or Flavour Cocoa publishes a list of countries that export ‘fine and flavour’ cocoa, with estimates of the share of total exports that can be classified as fine and flavour cocoa. However, these percentages are largely unverifiable due to a lack of transparent data collection and Dr Martin believes that in many cases the number of specialty cocoa producers quoted is often over-estimated. The ICCO also tracks data on cocoa production and potential for price premiums. Statistics it has produced show that production of cocoa that is fine/ specialty makes up roughly 6 per cent of annual global production. However, as Dr Martin points, out these figures are also difficult to verify. In addition, the framing of these figures – currently the only ‘officially’ collected ones about specialty cocoa – neglects the intention in raw material craftsmanship by cocoa producers. “If we are to recognize the crafting of chocolate, then should we not equally value the craftwork of cocoa producers, and thus frame our inquiries around specialty cocoa to include data beyond annual production and potential market price,” Dr Martin said?

Turning to the number of specialty cocoa production operations – those that grow, ferment and dry cocoa or aggregate cocoa or do so for other small growers – Dr Martin said that an initial analysis of the market based on the data that she has collected suggested that there were as few as 50 specialty cocoa production operations serving the craft chocolate market globally, though this figure is growing and will vary depending on how it is measured.

Number of specialty producers is surprisingly small

“I collected data on specialty cocoa operations that aim to distinguish themselves along the tangible and intangible lines detailed above, and that provide at least enough transparency into their operations that one can determine through research that they sell cocoa for quality premiums above the bulk commodity market price to chocolate makers and manufacturers,” Dr Martin explained.

These specialty cocoa production operations broke down into:

  • Private estates or research farms (18)
  • Farmer-led co-operatives or associations (9)
  • Contract farming/out-grower schemes (25)

That makes a total of 52. Put another way, this means that, of specialty cocoa production operations, 50 per cent are contract farming/out-grower schemes, 35 per cent are private estates or research farms, and 15 per cent are farmer-led cooperatives or associations.■ C&CI Read more

This article first appeared in the March’18 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read the full story and other informative articles in the March and future issues of C&CI or log in here if you are already a subscriber. 


* Carla Martin, PhD, is a social anthropologist with interdisciplinary interests that include history, agronomy, ethnomusicology, and linguistics. Her current research focuses on the politics of fine cocoa and chocolate in global perspective, for which she has conducted fieldwork in West Africa, Latin America, North America, and Europe. Since 2011, she has maintained a blog on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food at Bittersweet Notes. She received her PhD in African and African American Studies in 2012, her MA in Social Anthropology in 2007, and her BA in Social Anthropology in 2003, all from Harvard University.


**This article is based on an edited and updated version of Martin, Carla, ‘Sizing the craft chocolate market,’ Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog), 31 August 2017,  and is reproduced with thanks to Dr Martin.

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