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Chocolate is getting more expensive, with no signs of slowing, due to cacao shortage

Inflation is just one piece explaining the price hikes Canadians are experiencing, as one expert explains to Yahoo Canada

As Easter time approaches, some Canadians who buy chocolate to celebrate the holiday are wondering if the treat is pricier than it’s been before.

Inflation is only one piece explaining the apparent spike, as one expert explains to Yahoo Canada that a shortage in one essential ingredient — cacao — has had worldwide implications on production.

Expert: It's not just inflation that's impacting chocolate prices

While inflation has undoubtedly impacted the price of many grocery staples, food researcher Nino Bariola says there’s more going on when it comes to chocolate.

Bariola, a postdoctoral fellow with the Culinaria Research Centre at University of Toronto, says there is currently a significant global shortage of cacao. This comes as a result of the threats of cacao production in West Africa countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce a large portion of the global supply - 40 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.  

A number of factors have led to this outcome.

“A very important one has to do with the conditions of production of cacao in these countries — mainly in monoculture, which renders cacao plantations more susceptible to disease,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “Another crucial factor, which compounds its effects with diseases, is climate change, given that cacao trees grow within the tropics only.”

According to barchart.com, which tracks market data, Ivory Coast farmers shipped 29 per cent less cacao to ports from Oct. 1 to March 10, compared to the same period a year prior.  

Ivorian cocoa farmers fill bags with organic cocoa beens at the warehouse of the local farmers' collective, the Fair Cooperative Society of Bandama (SCEB) in M'brimbo, a village in central Ivory Coast village near Tiassale, on April 19, 2021. Cocoa farmers across Ivory Coast, the world's biggest producer of the key ingredient for chocolate, are down in the dumps after prices for their commodity have fallen for the second year running. Not so in M'Brimbo, a village in central Ivory Coast which 11 years ago became a testing ground for organic cocoa farming and today is prospering. (Photo by Issouf SANOGO / AFP) (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Cacao shortage: Devastating for Amazon rainforest

Bariola says that an important issue at stake is that the shortage, along with the rising price of cacao in West Africa, can put other tropical forests around the world, such as the Amazon, under threat.

“Considering that cacao only grows within the tropics, it’s likely that the pressure will grow to deforestate natural forests beyond West Africa to replace them with cacao trees,” he says. “We are already seeing that cacao production in Ecuador incremented extensively this past year, even surpassing Ghana."

He adds that while some may think that this can yield positive effects for cacao campesino growers, it can also have devastating effects in the Amazon rainforest.

PRODUCTION - 18 March 2024, Berlin: Chocolate Easter bunnies stand in a garden next to blooming daisies in sunny weather. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa (Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images)
PRODUCTION - 18 March 2024, Berlin: Chocolate Easter bunnies stand in a garden next to blooming daisies in sunny weather. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa (Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Chocolate prices up 17 per cent

Bariola says Canadian shoppers are indeed already seeing a rise in the price of chocolate as a direct result of the cacao shortage.

"While some consumers may not have noticed these increases yet, it’s likely that they will become even more salient in the future,” he says.

A report published in February by senior food and beverage economist Billy Roberts at CoBank found that retail chocolate prices are up about 17 per cent over two years and will continue to rise. But that's apparently not deterring buyers.

Last month, Daniel Terry, co-founder of the Denman Island Chocolate Company, told CBC that despite having to hike prices of his product as a result of the steep cost of cacao, his business managed to do the same amount of sales as they would for Christmas in the two days leading to Valentine’s Day.

Canadians react: 'Forget about it'

A post on the Reddit forum Loblaws is out of Control showed a photo of Lindt chocolate bunnies sold at Shopper Drug Mart for $10.99.

“Is it just me, or have these gotten expensive?” user Opposite_Bend7638 asked.

Many in the comments expressed their dismay at the price for the seasonal treat, which they remembered was cheaper in years past.

“This type of Easter bunny was always expensive, but ten bucks now,” IncitefulInsights wrote. “Forget about it.”

"I think they took the 'Gold Bunny' too literally," Leading-Gate2189 wrote.