Chocolate Prices Surge

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Chocolate lovers look set to be paying more for their favorite indulgence for the foreseeable future, with the price of two key ingredients – cocoa and sugar – likely to remain at high levels in the coming months, according to food and agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank.
Retail prices for chocolate have been climbing in recent months, as manufacturers around the world grapple with soaring input prices, especially cocoa, which has increased 27 percent in price in the past year, and sugar, which has also been trading at record highs, the bank said in a newly-released podcast ‘Sweet inflation and the Chocolate Factory’.
And prices for cocoa, in particular, may rise even higher.
RaboResearch associate analyst Pia Piggott said global cocoa prices had been on an “upward trajectory” since September last year, as the world heads into the potential third year of a cocoa supply deficit, due to poor growing conditions reducing production in the major cocoa-growing regions in West Africa.
“The major production regions, particularly in Ivory Coast – which accounts for more than 40 percent of global cocoa production – have had very wet conditions and flooding, which has been causing rotting and disease in the trees. In addition, the poor production volumes are also a result of reduced use of fertilizer because of lower fertilizer availability,” she said.
In addition, Pia Piggott said, the risk of further negative impacts on global cocoa production due to the emergence of an El Niño weather pattern had led the bank to forecast cocoa prices to stay at elevated levels well into 2024.

Not so sweet

Pia Piggott said adding further upward pressure to the cost of chocolate was the high price of sugar, which typically accounts “for approximately 60 percent of the weight of an average bar of milk chocolate”.
“ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) raw sugar is up 20 percent year to date, so for manufacturers, if 60 percent of your goods are sugar, that is a substantial input price increase,” she said.
Pia Piggott said while expectations of a large Brazilian sugar harvest had recently “taken some of the steam out” of international sugar prices, the bank was still expecting only a small global surplus in 2023/24, supporting continued elevated prices.
“At this point, we are forecasting a modest 1.5 million metric ton surplus for global sugar supplies in 2023/24, so that’s quite small. And we’re expecting that if there’s any increase in the severity of El Niño, that would certainly mean downward revisions to sugar production in various countries and possibly tip the scales back into a global deficit, with more demand than supply.
“So the potential is for sugar prices to really stay quite elevated.”
‘A glass and a half’
There was better price news though when it came to another key chocolate ingredient, dairy, Rabobank said.
Speaking on the podcast, RaboResearch senior dairy and food retail analyst Michael Harvey said a decline from the record and near-record prices seen a year ago for a number of dairy commodities and ingredients was providing some relief for chocolate manufacturer margins.
“This time last year, there wasn’t a lot of milk supply around globally and prices for milk powder and milk solids – which are key ingredients in chocolate – were at near-record highs, but fast forward to where we are now and that broader dairy commodity complex has come back to more normal trading conditions,” he said. “And our view at the moment is that we are going to have a subdued price environment for those dairy ingredients in the short term.
“So that’s something that will be feeding through the supply chain to food manufacturers, and, certainly for chocolate manufacturers, that means the dairy component will be more affordable.”

Price inflation

The Rabobank podcast said confectionery manufacturers had been taking steps to offset cost pressures in the system – mindful to avoid too much “demand destruction” from higher prices leading to consumers buying less chocolate.
However, Piggott said, there had been clear signs of price inflation in the chocolate category at retail level over the past year.
“Some of our favorite types of chocolate in Australia have risen in price by around 10 to 20 percent, so we’ve seen inflation in the category and that could continue if these cost pressures are going to increase,” she said.
Michael Harvey said the latest monthly (May) Consumer Price Index (CPI) data had also shown price inflation in the snack and confectionery category was running at a high “double digit” rate.
He said the bank was closely watching the “consumer response” to higher chocolate prices. “Because there is belt tightening going on and there’s going to be reduced spending on discretionary products, that might mean a little less chocolate on the go and less impulse purchasing out and about,” he said. “However consumers will still likely want to have some indulgence and eat chocolate when they are at home.”
And there are “still some bargains around” for consumers when it comes to buying chocolate treats.
“With manufacturers trying to keep market share in the category, they are still putting some of our favorite chocolates on sale to keep us buying them,” he said.

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