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I certainly am a vendor and lover of chocolate–and I don’t see anything wrong with either of those things. If I were interested for some odd reason in hiding either of those facts I could just as easily post here or elsewhere under a pseudonym.
The fact that I retail and wholesale chocolate puts me in touch with lots and lots of folks from different aspects of the industry at large, and that means a lot of differing opinions, approaches and information. If anything, I’m the opposite of dogmatic when it comes to chocolate–I believe that there are many ways to enjoy it as an experience, and many approaches to making it and buying it that are perfectly valid. All I was trying to point out above is that your reading of the industrial situation at large seems unduly narrow to me. It seems more than a bit silly to keep reiterating these issues, so I won’t.
The real vested interest that I have in fine chocolate is that same as anyone else who truly loves the stuff–it needs our support and evangelism to continue to grow and improve, so that we can all continue to find new chocolates to love and new reasons to appreciate those we already know well.
January 10, 2006
Just for reference, here’s a link to the ICCO cacao commodity price (updated daily):
As of today, the global price comes out to $2.77 per kilo (USD).
Here are some prices currently being paid by chocolatiers here on the west coast of the US:
Carenero Superior: $5.74/kilo (USD)
Trinidad San Antonio Grande: $7.23/kilo (USD)
Conacado Cooperative: $6.90/kilo (USD)
I use these three examples because they are not broker’s numbers–they’re direct to the plantation. Without even considering the issues of organic or fair trade certification, do you seriously believe that these farmers aren’t better off than someone growing for $2.77/kilo or less?
January 10, 2006
Yes, I’m well aware of the cocoa commodity price (seeing as buying cocoa is my job).
So … how does looking at today’s commodity price prove to me that “Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Marcolini, Amedei or any number of other premium producers” pay “minimally three to four times the global commodity rate”?
By the way, you never bothered to define what you mean by “best cacao”, but you may be interested to learn that the “commodity rate” only applies to bulk cacao (i.e average Forastero beans) anyway. So comparing the commodity price against the price paid by Amedei for Chuao beans is meaningless in terms of understanding the relevant outcomes for growers.
January 10, 2006
Seneca, thank you for providing some evidence – the numbers are interesting.
As for whether I “seriously believe that these farmers aren’t better off than someone growing for $2.77/kilo or less” – well, I still don’t have enough information to say one way or the other.
I’ll give you an example:
In Ecuador, you have the highly-respected Nacional Arriba “flavour” beans. You also have the widely-despised CCN51 hybrid, which produces a much less palatable “bulk” bean.
The catch is that the Nacional trees are much less productive than the CCN51 trees. In fact, I was told that each CCN51 tree produces four times as many beans as each Nacional tree.
Now, CCN51 beans are entitled to be traded as a commodity, at the commodity price. So where does that leave the grower of the “flavour” Nacional variety? Even with the same number of trees, he can only produce one-quarter of the amount of beans as his neighbour growing CCN51. Clearly, this means that to make an income the same as his neighbour, he would have to receive four-times the commodity price for each kilo of beans he grows.
So, even if he earns four times as much per kilo as his neighbour, he is no better off.
Hence, paying a high price for high quality “flavour” beans is actually paying for a material advantage. It is not the same as paying a bonus to a grower just because you think his children deserve to be able to attend school.
Definitely a problematic scenario, but I think it would be just as easy to pose a hypothetical to make the reverse case. Either way, I agree that production price isn’t a silver bullet and there are ongoing and significant social justice and environmental equity issues in the world of cacao production.
However, I still contend that if you are just a consumer of chocolate (like most folks out there) you’ll be doing more good on balance for the industry and its growers by focusing your spending on the higher end of the marketplace than on the mass/lower end. (And you’re much much more likely to have a wonderful epicurean experience as well…) I really believe that in the long run an increased consumer focus on specialty and unique origin chocolates will move the entire industry in a more sustainable direction–hopefully with a healthy mix of organic and fair trade products in there as well.
Thanks for the interesting discussion.
January 10, 2006
It simply isn’t the case that higher quality germplasm is less productive, as a starting place. But for the sake of argument, imagine you’ve got two farmers side by side. One chooses to grow a varietal with 2X the yield, but is only able to achieve a final quality that can earn $3/kilo. The neighbor grows a less productive but more sought-after varietal, and is capable of earning $6/kilo. Acre for acre, they’re earning equal income, but even in this economically even scenario, ask yourself who’s better positioned for the future. I would argue that the farmer growing the more sought-after product has a much greater market opportunity, more chance of multi-year contracts, greater access to information to improve his/her product, etc., etc.
Just an idea…