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Local chocolatiers increase cocoa uptake, but exports fluctuate

The official data on cocoa is lagging, but businesses and the regulator overseeing the market say more cocoa-based products are being produced in Jamaica, and as part of the trend, more local beans are being supplied as raw material to local manufacturers amid falling exports.

The agency that oversees the cocoa trade said it stems from a concerted push to channel beans to the rising chocolate-making market.

“JACRA is currently working to link more farmers with local chocolatiers. This has resulted in more local consumption,” said Shanika Newman, senior director of the cocoa, coconut and spices at the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority.

Nick Davis, proprietor of One One Cocoa in St Mary, which makes dark and white chocolates, said a decade ago there were hardly any players in the chocolate-making business.

Now: “… We’re now up to eight artisanal chocolate makers taking cocoa from the bean and transforming it into chocolate. As these businesses have grown to supply the local market, in particular, either B2B with hotels or to shops and supermarkets, the demand for cocoa has grown,” Davis said. B2B is a reference to business-to-business transactions.

Davis actually said there were zero operators in Jamaica a decade ago; however, there was at least one – Chocolate Dreams – which started out doing hand-made chocolate products in 2004. Years before that, the Highgate brand of chocolates was produced in Jamaica, but that operation eventually failed and went into receivership in 2006. The brand was never revived.

The market today also includes One One Cocoa, Pure Chocolate Jamaica, Mount Pleasant, Likkle More Chocolate, Seed of Life, Chocollor, Cafe Blue, and Patoo Chocolate.

Wouter Tjeertes, owner of Pure Chocolate Jamaica, also describes the chocolate industry as still in its infancy. He entered the market in 2017 but has seen an increase in new market entrants since he set up his operation in Kingston.

“So yes, the local demand has grown,” Tjeertes said. His business is currently focused on supplying the local market, but will approach the export market as the second element of its growth plan, he said.

JACRA provides data on cocoa beans volumes and values, but does not report on value-added production.

The commodities regulator said that for the crop year ending September 2019, some 149,000 kilogrammes of cocoa were produced, of which over 115,600 were exported at a value of US$420,723. The cocoa crop extends from October to September of the following year. For crop year 2020, production topped 109,300 kg, of which nearly 102,900 kg were exported at a value of US$452,462.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica’s most current data on cocoa exports also date up to 2021. Those exports span sugar confectionery, including white chocolate; raw cocoa beans; cocoa paste; cocoa powder with sugar or other sweeteners; other chocolate and food preparations containing chocolate.

That year, exports of the agricultural commodity were valued at just US$867,927, marking a second year of slippage from US$1.25 million in 2019 and from US$1.1 million in 2020. One of the largest categories of export is cocoa powder with sugar or other sweeteners.

Jamaica is one of 17 countries worldwide recognised as producers of fine, or flavoured cocoa.

The local sector comprises farmers of the crop, traders, chocolatiers, and four fermentaries that are located in St Thomas, St Andrew, St Mary and Clarendon. Licensed cocoa dealers include Coffee Traders Limited, Golden Dawn Estate, Pioneer Chocolate Company Limited, and the Export Division of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries.

There also are small-scale chocolatiers who run cottage industries, which are small business operators that produce value-added products to supply both local and international markets.

Their produce includes single-estate chocolate bars infused with local flavours, to traditional chocolate balls used to make hot-chocolate beverage.

In 2021, the major contracts for cocoa supplies emanated from The Netherlands, Italy and Japan.

Newman said cocoa production improved in 2022 to 10,550 boxes holding dry recovery weight of 105.5 metric tonnes, or 105,500 kg. That’s up from 8,385 boxes holding 83.5 metric tonnes, or 83,500 kg, in 2021.

There was no update on exports for 2022, but absent the official data, there is an expectation in the market that the shift towards local supply will be sustained.

“Local farmers need to be reignited to pick up the cocoa tree as a valuable crop, but I do believe the future is bright,” said Tjeertes. “Our local beans are deemed ‘fine flavour’, an international accreditation given to exceptional quality beans found only in a few countries in the world. As long as we protect that status and ensure we remain premium quality, there is a lot that can be done.,” he added.

In Jamaica, cocoa is cultivated as a mixed crop, with the typical cocoa farm producing coconuts, bananas, plantains, and timber. This allows farmers to generate income from several crops produced on a one-acre plot.

The trees start producing cocoa after three years and hits optimum production at year seven.

Problems affecting the cocoa sector include low plant density, low plant management or nutrition, low productivity, ageing plants, diseases such as frosty pod and rot, and pests, as well as “ageing producers, low investor interest, low youth participation, low return on investment and insufficient living income for some producers”, said Newman.

Export markets include France, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, United States, Canada and Japan, with Netherlands, Italy and Japan being among the newer markets.

“My perspective on the possible decline in the export of cocoa beans is that this is actually positive. It would just go to show local consumption is growing, and the added value of the cocoa and chocolate industry remains in Jamaica. This can only be seen as a positive for the economy, in my opinion,” said Tjeertes of Pure Chocolate Jamaica.

“Interestingly enough, we have recently exported our products with very positive responses from our European buyers, showing that there is indeed potential for Jamaican-made chocolate products, instead of only Jamaican-grown cocoa beans,” he said.

JACRA estimates the yearly cost of growing one acre of cocoa at $120,000 to $160,000, and that each acre can produce 40 to 70 boxes, annually, depending on the agricultural practices applied by the farmer. The price paid to farmers per box of cocoa was $3,000 in 2021. At that price, which represented gross income of $120,000 to $210,000 per acre, farmers had limited or no opportunity to profit from their labour.

Davis said that the sector is grappling with the historical neglect of coffee farmers, who ended up getting rid of cocoa plants because they got no good returns from them.

Part of the resolution to the problem, he said, is paying farmers higher prices for their beans, at least 25 per cent more, in order to encourage production.

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