Wednesday, July 24, 2024


The Somerville Chocolate CSA buys from small-batch cacao farms at a price point that helps protect against chocolate shortages such as the one drawing concern now. (Photo:  Somerville Chocolate)

The Somerville Chocolate CSA buys from small-batch cacao farms at a price point that helps protect against chocolate shortages such as the one drawing concern now. (Photo: Somerville Chocolate)

If word of a global chocolate shortage has been clogging your news feed, disrupting your “Colbert Report” viewing or giving you pause as you peruse Bloomberg News or The Washington Post, you may be reassured to know that what’s bad for your Hershey’s Kisses is less likely to have an effect on the local, gourmet chocolate experience you’re used to in Cambridge and Somerville.

The industry is seeing a combination of climate change, a blight called frosty pod, growing demand from China and other developing markets and more farmers switching to crops such as corn and rubber just as more people are swearing by dark chocolates that use far more cocoa than milk chocolate and progressively more as they get darker and richer. The result is worsening annual shortages dating back to 2012.

Raising prices has been the go-to solution for giant candy makers such as Mars and Hershey’s, but they’re also paying for crop experimentation that will make more beans, possibly costing in taste and quality.

If you’re used to the good stuff, though, you could go largely unaffected.

“Since we source our cocoa beans directly from farmers through our Direct Trade program, we don’t anticipate a shortage to affect our business or our customers,” said Alex Whitmore, a co-founder and sourcing director for Somerville’s Taza Chocolates.

Taza’s Direct Trade program and those like it build “strong, long-term relationships” with better-paid producers of smaller batches of “the worlds best-quality cocoa beans,” Whitmore said in an email. That insures against the kind of forces and fluctuations now affecting larger companies.

Different sizes of small

The same goes for Eric Parkes and his Somerville Chocolate CSA, which – like Taza – operates near Union Square. But while Taza began selling in 2006 and has some 72 products selling for between $5 and $90 “in all 50 states, as well as Australia, Hong Kong, Norway and the U.K.,” according to a company rep in Boston Magazine, the chocolate CSA launched in 2012 has four bars in a handful of locations between Cambridge and Somerville. The bars, in stately, heavy paper with a handmade feel, cost either $8 or $9.

“There are different markets out there, and what I’m doing is at the higher end. I’m not buying bulk like Nestlé,” Parkes said, who is written up in the December issue of Edible Boston. “The spot prices on the cacao will have less of an impact on what I do, because there’s so much value being added on my end. A great deal of what I charge for chocolate is my labor.”

Parkes could imagine the problem becoming dire enough to force him to switch producers, such as potentially finding a seller in West Africa instead of South America, but his bean orders are limited to two or three times a year – delaying the impact to his bottom line. In fact, his upcoming bulk purchase is from a new, two-man farm in the mountains of Nicaragua, and “I haven’t heard any news about blight there … but in places like that you’re already paying a bit of a premium. I might pay three or four times a pound what Hershey’s does for a place they own.”

Cool to concerns

Making high-end treats at Toscanini’s ice cream in Central Square causes Gus Rancatore to worry a lot about commodity prices for chocolate, as well as for coffee and sugar, but years of worrying has taught him a lesson: There’s always more volatility in anticipated prices than there is when it comes to signing the checks.

“I’m paying attention to it,” Rancatore said of the growing imbalance between chocolate demand and cocoa production. “But until the prices start moving, I’m not going to worry too much.”

Back at Taza, Whitmore said the complexities of supply and demand in the global cocoa market made it unclear whether a serious shortage would come to pass.

If there was a shortage, though, “it will be great news for cocoa farmers,” he said. “They will receive more money for their cocoa as demand outstrips supply.”