Economic Geography of Your Valentine’s Day Chocolate

| |

Americans will spend up to $700 million on chocolate for Valentine’s Day – representing only a fraction of the multibillion dollar, international chocolate industry whose economics are intertwined with country specific politics and cultures and regional markets across the globe.

Crises and trends in specific geographic regions – Europe, West Africa, and Southeast Asia – are driving price changes of finished chocolate products across the globe and dictating how much Americans pay for their products.

Read here how the complex geography of chocolate affects how much you will pay for your creamy milk chocolate hearts and kisses this Valentine’s season and in years to come!

Cocoa: A Global Commodity

Chocolate comes from cocoa beans derived from the fruit of the Cacoa tree, indigenous to Central and South America. Cacoa is grown commercially throughout the tropical Americas still, but the majority of cocoa beans are exported from Africa.[i]

The Ivory Coast alone exports 1.6 million tons, or 33%, and together with bordering nation Ghana, more than 60% of cocoa originates from West Africa.[ii] The price of cocoa beans is thus tied to the place-based realities of those countries.

In the past few months, the commodity price of cocoa beans has risen 18%, driving up prices of finished chocolate products across the globe. One reason is because Ivory Coast closed its borders with neighboring Liberia due to the Ebola Virus outbreak.

The closure has made transportation more difficult, but the price rise is mainly due to fear in the marketplace of the epidemic’s spread and a resultant production drop – and hence the World Cocoa Foundation, a conglomerate of big brands like Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars, are throwing millions of dollars into Ebola Virus relief support to assure price stability and future production.[iii]

Picture of a bar of dark chocolate.
Ecuador is home to some of the oldest varieties of cocoa trees which produce the beans used to make chocolate.

Importing and Exporting Finished Chocolate Products

Nearly all cocoa beans are exported to Western developed countries where finished chocolate products are fabricated. The US imports 18% of all finished chocolate candy, making it the largest importer in the world. Along with Russia, Canada, the European Union, and Russia, 5 countries import more than half of the global supply. The EU is the largest exporter, followed closely by the US.[iv]

The top candy producers with chocolate products by sales are 1) Mars (US-based), 2) Mondalez International (US-based), 3) Ferrero Group (Luxembourg and Italy-based), 4) Nestle (Switzerland-based), and 5) Meiji Co Ltd. (Japan-based).

Map of Showing the Production of Cocoa Beans by Country

Grayscale map with green gradient showing the production of cocoa beans by country.
Grayscale map with green gradient showing the production of cocoa beans by country.

Table of Production of Cocoa Beans by Country (Tons)

Country2008/20092009/20102010/2011 (Estimated)
Côte d’Ivoire1223.1521242.2931511.255
Dominican Republic54.9944458.334154.27863
Papua New Guinea59.36539.447.095
Sierra Leone101415
Data source: Source: ICCO’s Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, compiled by The Guardian, April 2012.

Shifting Chocolate Markets Create New Economic Boom in Asia

Those import and export statistics are changing, however, as Asian nations, especially Singapore and China, have developed a taste for Western chocolate candy. China is now the 11th largest market for chocolate, according to Godiva marketing specialists, with sales doubling from 2008 to 2013.[v]

An economic geography result of new markets in Asia is that Indonesia has jumped to become one of the largest cocoa importers in the world, fabricating chocolate products to meet local demand to its Asian trade partners, according to a Bloomerg report.[vi]

Indonesia is the third largest cocoa bean exporter in the world, as well as one of the fastest growing economies. The high commodity price of chocolate due to the Ebola scare coupled with new import demands of Asian trade partners has made Indonesia shift from exporting its raw products to manufacture finished chocolate candies for export.

The bottom line to your chocolate prices is that Indonesia’s shift to manufacturing is also driving up the price of cocoa for Hershey’s and its Western chocolate maker associates, as it is creating increased demand on the global market for raw cocoa, with less supply.

Fair Trade Chocolate Driving Up Prices

The consumers of chocolate are the global privileged, and, more and more, a guilty conscious for the environmental and socio-economic costs of eating commodity-based chocolate has made fair trade chocolate extremely popular. Six million small farmers depend on chocolate prices for their livelihoods, and large scale chocolate production can be devastating to local ecosystems if done unsustainably.

Fair trade cocoa sales increased by 14% in 2014, partly because Mars committed to make all Twix bars for Germany fair trade certified.[vii] If more growers shift to fair trade, global commodity prices will increase.

Conclusion: Chocolate Price Forecast for the Future

The economic geography of the chocolate trade is showing shifting consumer markets, producers, and commodity prices. Most likely, if Asian markets continue to expand rapidly for imports, the commodity price for cocoa beans is driven up by Ebola and strained exports from Western Africa, and more and more consumers demand that fair trade beans take an increasing segment of the market share, your chocolate hearts and kisses for Valentine’s Day will only be much costlier in 2016.


[i] Where Does Chocolate Come From? Does it Grow on Trees? 2014. Facts about Chocolate.

[ii] Tomson, Bill. 12 Oct. 2014. Ebola Threatens Chocolate. Politico.

[iii] Caulderwood, Kathleen. 23 Oct. 2014. Why Chocolate Makers are Uniting to Fight Ebola. International Business Times.

[iv] Foreign Agricultural Service. 14 Feb. 2013. Processed Product Spotlight: Chocolate Candy.

[v] Yoga Rusmana, Eko Listiyorini. 16 Apr. 2014. Cocoa Imports by Indonesia Jumping on Chocolate Demand. Bloomberg.

[vi] Bloomberg 2014.

[vii] Nieburg, Oliver. 06 Feb. 2014. Fairtrade Chocolate Set for Uplift after Fresh Approach. Confectionary News.