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Toronto chocolatiers face rising costs as price of cocoa soars

After two decades in the chocolate business, Jennifer Rashleigh and Jeff Brown have witnessed a lot of change and endured many challenges as small business owners.

But they’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

“In the past year, we’ve seen about four price increases on our main product, which is chocolate,” said Rashleigh.

“Those were smaller increases, but we’ve been told by our supplier that, as of next month, it will go up as much as 50 per cent.”

The husband and wife team behind Delight Chocolate & Ice Cream in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood have been brainstorming ways they can keep their business thriving ever since they got the news.

Their focus has always been on handmade chocolates that are organic and fair trade — it’s a product that’s higher quality, but also more costly to produce.

“It was a lot of shock when we first found out,” said Brown. “We’ve had a lot of conversations to figure out what we’re going to do and what we could change.”

The pair are among many local chocolatiers and small businesses in the Greater Toronto Area feeling the pressure as cocoa prices across the globe rise rapidly to record levels. Experts say climate change and crop disease impacting chocolate-producing regions are causing a supply shortage that will make chocolate more expensive for the foreseeable future.

According to the International Cocoa Organization, there has been around a 30 per cent decrease of cocoa supply arriving at Ivorian and Ghanaian ports compared to the previous season.
The daily price for cocoa more than tripled from around $2,700 US per ton to more than $9,000 US per ton in the past year, according to the International Cocoa Organization. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Cocoa price more than tripled in 1 year

While shop owners deal with the Easter chocolate rush, they’re also considering ways they may have to adapt their businesses. 

The daily price for cocoa was around $2,700 US per ton on March 24, 2023, according to the International Cocoa Organization. One year later, that price has jumped to over $9,000 US per ton. 

Lesley Campbell, professor of chemistry and biology at Toronto Metropolitan University, said there are no signs the recent price increases are going to slow down.

Weather patterns ranging from excessive rain to droughts in West Africa, Central and South America have impacted several crops including cacao trees, she said.

Dr. Lesley Campbell is a professor in the department of chemistry and biology at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Lesley Campbell is a professor in the chemistry and biology department at Toronto Metropolitan University. She says poor environmental conditions in cocoa-producing regions of Africa and South and Central America are largely responsible for recent price increases. (Submitted/Ann Maas)

“The idea of chocolate prices going up right now is symbolic of several years of really tough environmental conditions in those locations,” Campbell said.

There has also been a push from cocoa farmers for better wages and working conditions. 

In October 2023, the Reuters news agency reported that Ghana raised their farm gate prices — the price at which agricultural products are sold by farmers at the point of production — by 63 per cent.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast, which produces almost half the world’s supply of the raw ingredient used in chocolate bars, raised its farm gate prices by 11 per cent. Because cacao trees can only be grown in certain regions, any environmental risk will have a huge impact on the supply.

“There will be landholders who switch crops entirely … and others will choose to grow it in other places,” Campbell said, adding cacao trees take around five years to mature and start producing cacao pods.

“Because of that, there will be a delay where these old trees are in place but not producing fruit and the new trees are planted but they’re not yet producing fruit.”

Campbell suggests chocolate lovers stick to organic and fair trade products, and says there will likely be other food products in the coming years that shift to become more “luxury” items as climate change continues to impact crops around the world.

Higher costs forces chocolatier to consider price hikes

Mariane Oliveira, owner of Mary’s Brigadeiro on the Danforth, says her team has also been struggling with how to maintain the quality of their handcrafted chocolates and keep up with the increasing costs.

Oliveira said in addition to the the price of cocoa beans going up, the price of dairy and other supplies have also risen as inflation drove up costs in recent years.

“One day, we are going to have to make a big increase,” she said, referring to the possibility of increasing her own prices.

So far, Oliveira is adapting to the new environment by making products like their annual chocolate Easter bunnies smaller. She says customers continue to show their support, and she hopes they stick around rather than turning to larger chocolate manufacturers.

“I would say keep looking at the big picture,” she said.

“Small business owners support other people in our community — in our case, we support other women, other immigrants who work with us.”

Mariane Oliveira, the chocolatier behind Mary's Brigadeiro, says her team has had to adapt to the changing industry by making new products and downsizing some of their chocolates.
Mariane Oliveira, the chocolatier behind Mary’s Brigadeiro, says her team has had to adapt to the changing industry by making new products and reducing the size of some of their chocolates. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Rashleigh and Brown said they’ve also created a sense of community around their shop and hope that keeps customers coming back, even as they’re forced to raise their prices.

“We’ve seen a lot of people grow up in this neighbourhood. We’ve had kids come into the store in strollers who now are working for us part time,” Brown said.

After much discussion and reflecting on how much they love their jobs, the owners of Delight Chocolate decided to keep their product the same.

“We are not going to compromise on our core product,” Brown said. “So if they’ve come to know us for the chocolates they love, the recipes won’t change, it will be the chocolates they’ve always known.”

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