Bitter truth

Bengaluru’s patisseries and bakeries run the gamut in their approach to the ongoing global cocoa supply crisis
Aarohi Sanghavi
Aarohi Sanghavi

BENGALURU: Forget gold and oil, the real precious commodity in 2024 is brown and solid: Cocoa beans. The world is facing a full-blown chocolate crisis, with prices soaring faster than the venerable Willy Wonka on a sugar rush. Climate change, crop diseases, and a chronic lack of investment in Africa’s cocoa belt – which supplies more than 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa – have led to a steep decline in production. The result? Fewer beans reaching chocolate producers and a potential cocoa-less future for connoisseurs.

How are Bengaluru’s innumerable patisseries dealing with the crisis? Glen Williams, founder, Glen’s Bakehouse, which has a dozen outlets in the city, has increased prices by 20-30 per cent, depending on the product, rather than changing recipes to adapt to the rising cocoa prices.

“From a customer’s perspective, if they used to buy two kilos of chocolate cake, they might now buy 1.5 kilos. As part of the product team, I’m very clear about cost. We shouldn’t charge more than necessary, but we also need to survive and pay salaries.

The cocoa price today has nearly doubled – from Rs 384 a few months ago to Rs 720 at this point. We had an early tip-off about the rising prices, so we bought extra stock. But, buying extra stock comes with costs and shelf-life issues,” he shares.

Aarohi Sanghavi, the founder of the quaint Maki Patisserie in Indiranagar also bought a large stock of cocoa from her supplier in anticipation of rising prices a few months ago. “Thus far, shortages haven’t been a significant issue. However, prices are expected to rise further.

Currently, we have not decided to discontinue chocolate desserts, but we are limiting their quantity and trying not to increase prices for our customers. We prefer to avoid passing on the costs to them,” she shares, adding, “Eventually, it is likely we will need to raise prices as it seems inevitable.”

Meanwhile, some bakeries are experimenting with reducing the cocoa content in their recipes, while others are absorbing financial losses to keep serving their regulars, with hopes of the crisis resolving soon.

“Chocolate is universally loved, and I believe it’s essential for any bakery. We’re hoping prices will stabilise soon, though predictions suggest it might take up to two years. To balance things out, we’re promoting more fruit-based cakes – like mango, which is in season – while still running the bakery as usual,” says Teena Vellara, founder of Croons, a patisserie. The availability of her own space on Church Street has allowed her to absorb the increasing cost of cocoa while maintaining prices. “Fortunately, I don’t have to pay rent, which helps manage overall expenses,” she adds.

Despite increasing prices by an average of 13 to 15 per cent Abhishek Singhania, co-director at ZOROY, a luxury boutique cafe, says it hasn’t significantly affected their business. “However, we have noticed a slowdown in bulk sales of cocoa powder, where our customers are B2B and use it to make other products.

These customers are more price-sensitive,” he shares, adding, “We are also supplementing seasonal fruit flavours instead of chocolate wherever possible to offset the price increase. For example, in our hampers, which usually contain around 10 items, we used to include three chocolate items. Now, we’ve reduced it to two to help manage costs.”

Unprecedented meltdown

Three years of poor harvests, caused by worsening weather and crop diseases in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, have significantly reduced the global cocoa supply. This scarcity, combined with sustained global demand for chocolate, has driven prices to record highs. The cocoa market is anticipated to face another deficit next season due to the severity of cacao diseases affecting cocoa production, potentially resulting in four consecutive years of deficit for the first time in half a century

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The New Indian Express