Why are some countries famous for chocolate?

25 Aug 2020

Cocoa Planet Engaged Ethics Environment Food + Drink Luxury Chocolate

What countries are famous for chocolate – and what countries should be famous?

A trip to Belgium isn’t complete without spending some time wandering through chocolate shops, breathing in the rich cocoa aromas and perusing the delicacies on the shelves. But why Belgium and not Ghana, where thousands of tonnes of cocoa beans are grown annually?

It’s true, Belgium (and other countries around the world) have rich chocolate cultures, but in this blog we’re going to look at how this came about, and why countries like Belgium and Switzerland are hubs for luxury chocolate, whilst those which grow the cocoa bean are rarely given a second thought.

Countries that are famous for chocolate – but don’t grow it

Chocolate is rarely produced in the same country as the cocoa beans are grown, but we’re going to start off with listing the countries that make the most chocolate; that is, turning cocoa beans into the delicious chocolate we know and love. If you want more information about how we do this, check out our blog on how chocolate is made.

The United Kingdom

street in London, famous for chocolate

Although we may not be the largest chocolate producer in the world (that title unsurprisingly goes to the US who has to fulfill a massive domestic demand) our chocolate is still famous worldwide.

Our chocolate culture started hundreds of years ago; Cadbury’s chocolate company opened in 1824, and Bristol-based chocolatier Fry and Sons produced the first solid chocolate bar in 1847. Since then, we have been exporting our British chocolate inventions such as Kit Kats, Galaxy bars and Cadburys all over the world. 

And we can’t deny it, we Brits love chocolate too; the UK chocolate market size has hit £4bn, and there has been an uptick in luxury chocolate companies that make their chocolate in the UK.

Germany

Often overlooked due to its proximity to chocolate hubs like Switzerland and Belgium, Germany is an industrious chocolate producer in its own right, raking in £7.6 billion a year from annual sales.

Cologne is hailed as the chocolate capital of the country, and the city’s chocolate museum boasts 600,000 visitors a year as well as a three-metre high chocolate fountain.

Switzerland 

town in Switzerland famous for chocolate

Chocolate is still an important source of wealth for Switzerland, and the Swiss opened their first chocolate factories at the beginning of the 19th century, and Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter is credited for creating the first milk chocolate in 1875.

Although they previously exported the vast majority of their chocolate, nowadays the Swiss are taking advantage of what they’ve got on their own doorstep, and keep a lot of it to eat themselves. In a perfect circle, the people who eat the most Swiss chocolate are the Swiss themselves – and can you blame them?

Switzerland currently makes around £10.7 billion a year from chocolate sales (both domestic and international), and the capital of Zurich is considered the foundation for its chocolate production.

Belgium

For a country with only 11.46 million people, Belgium is packed to the brim with chocolate. It is home to 15 chocolate factories and a whopping 2000 chocolate shops, and it makes £9.13 billion annually from chocolate sales.

One of the reasons the country is so highly regarded in terms of chocolate production is the stringent rules that must be followed when making chocolate. The Belgian Chocolate Code states that no chocolate can be called “Belgian” unless the process of mixing, refining and conching are all carried out in Belgium.

This chocolate should also conform to other regulations, like having a minimum of 35% cocoa and having no artificial, vegetable or palm-oil based fats, although this code is just a recommendation and not a law.

Countries that grow the most cocoa – but aren’t famous for it 

hands holding cocoa beans in ivory coast

As we’ve seen, the majority of chocolate worldwide is produced – but not grown- in Western countries. These companies have to import cocoa beans from other countries, as the cacao tree is very sensitive and will only flourish in specific climates.

The best area for cocoa production is in countries that are no further than 20 degrees north or south of the equator, with the vast majority being grown in West Africa. Unfortunately, although these countries should be famous for chocolate, since they provide the raw material for the sweet treat to be made, very few people can name countries that are well-known for growing cocoa.

As well as this, despite the billions of pounds in the global chocolate market, a staggeringly small amount of money trickles down to the farmers themselves.

Côte d’Ivoire

This West African country produces 37.1% of the world’s cocoa which is sent to huge chocolate conglomerates like Hershey, Nestle and Cadbury. Around 6 million people work in the cocoa industry in the country today, but the average Ivoirian cocoa farmer makes just 74p a day.

In 2017, over-production of cocoa meant that the government was forced to slash the price of cocoa to remain competitive in the cocoa market. This resulted in a reduction to the already-low incomes farmers receive for their labour.

The future isn’t looking too bright either. Due to a mixture of cocoa-farming induced deforestation and climate change, the land has become drier and less fertile. As temperatures rise across the globe and deforestation continues unchecked, the areas that are suitable for cocoa production are getting smaller and smaller.

Although cocoa makes up 10% of the country’s GDP, Côte d’Ivoire may have to look at diversifying its exports as its capacity to produce cocoa diminishes.

Ghana

Ghana jungle famous for chocolate

Over the last eight years, Ghana’s cocoa production has remained relatively stable at around 850,000 tonnes a year, which equates to around 22% of the world’s cocoa production and 30% of the country’s export earnings.

However, just as in Côte d’Ivoire, things are not as rosy for the farmers. Cocoa trees were usually planted after slash and burn deforestation (a fast way to clear land for agriculture), but as the forest areas are running out, the farmers are forced to stay on one plot of land and replant.

One study found that replanting cocoa on the same land (as opposed to slash and burn farming) would take 184 more days of work per hectare. This increased time and cost of farming is not represented in an increase in cocoa prices, so cocoa farmers are working harder and getting poorer.

Indonesia

Producing around 660,000 tonnes of cocoa a year, Indonesia is the third-largest producer of the bean in the world. This may seem like a lot, but in 2009 the country produced 850,000 tonnes – that’s almost 50% more than this year.

This is due to the destruction caused by the Cocoa Pod Borer pest (CPB), which decimated hundreds and thousands of cocoa plants in 2015. This forced many farmers to abandon their cocoa trees and plant corn, coconut or palm oil instead, as they were seen as less of a risk.

The CPB crisis meant the country lost 200,000 hectares of cacao plantations, and yield per hectare fell by 50% percent. Bearing in mind that 95% of cocoa plantations in the country are smallholdings, this means thousands and thousands of farmers have been adversely affected by the cocoa crisis.

It’s also now difficult to persuade farmers to move back to cocoa, even though the risk from the CPB has gone. Because of its poor track record, they see cocoa as an unprofitable crop that will not allow them to support their families or improve their livelihoods.

Although the government has been slow to react, Barry Callebaut, one of the world’s largest chocolate producers, (who have production plants in Indonesia) have supported cocoa farmers in Lampung, South Sumatra. They are teaching them more efficient and sustainable farming practices that will boost both the yield and quality of the cocoa pods; higher quality pods will result in a financial bonus.

Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria, exports chocolate

Producing just over 328,000 tonnes of cocoa annually, Nigeria is the fourth on our list. According to research by cocoa expert Professor A.J. Adegeye, Nigeria has been unable to ramp up cocoa production because both the cocoa trees and the cocoa farmers are too old.

This, added to the failure to update their farming methods (which could drastically improve yield and quality), means that cocoa production may become a thing of the past in Nigeria unless stakeholders take action.

Adegeye supports the adoption of growing new cocoa trees, adhering to modern farming practices and encouraging younger generations into the cocoa industry to ensure a sustainable future for Nigeria’s cocoa market..

Countries that are famous for chocolate – but only grow a small amount

The growth of Single-Origin chocolate has meant that some countries have become famous for growing cocoa, even though relative to the giants like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana they make a paltry amount.

This can happen because the chocolate producers that import beans from West Africa and Indonesia often blend beans from different countries. Blending cacao beans is the easiest way to reliably mass-produce chocolate with a recognisable flavour. Using just one bean from one area is riskier, as disease or a bad harvest could leave the company without enough cocoa beans to meet demand.

As the cocoa beans are blended, you won’t see the country’s name’s adorning the chocolate packets, as cocoa from various countries that makes up your bar.

With single origin chocolate, just one type of bean, grown in one specific region, is used to make a bar of chocolate. The specific region, climate and soil results in cocoa beans with a unique flavour – which is why we won’t hide where the chocolate comes from!

Here at Hotel Chocolat, we foster relationships with cocoa farmers across the globe to help them grow their cocoa sustainably and profitably so that they can improve their livelihoods. This allows them to carefully maintain the cocoa to create beans perfect for making quality single-origin chocolate.

South America

Colombian climate good for growing chocolate

A lot of high-quality chocolate comes from countries native to the cocoa tree, such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Brazil used to be one of the world’s largest cocoa producers, but in the early 90s a disease called Witches Broom Fungus destroyed hundreds of thousands of cocoa trees, killing off an area the size of Belgium. Today, Brazil produces 5.5% of the world’s cocoa, and its continental cousin Ecuador produces 4.8% – that’s fifth and seventh in the world respectively.

From the misty highlands of the Colombian Sierra Nevada region to the Matagalpa hills of Nicaragua, the high rainfall but long sunny periods make these areas ideal for cocoa production.

Africa

It’s not just Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire who can boast the best land for cocoa plantations. Cameroon produces a similar amount of cocoa as Brazil, and other countries like Uganda and Togo are also in the top 15 cocoa producers worldwide.

Madagascar – famous for high-quality chocolate and vanilla, comes in at a paltry 20th, producing just 11,000 tonnes of cocoa a year – but a lot of this is used in single-origin or luxury chocolates in the country itself, which has multiple bean-to-bar chocolate factories.

The Caribbean

Saint Lucia where Rabot 1745 chocolate plantation is

We couldn’t finish this article without mentioning St Lucia; the beautiful Caribbean island where we directly grow some of our own cocoa beans on our Rabot Estate. The tropical climate allows the cocoa trees to thrive, and we focus on ensuring the quality and not the quantity of our produce.

If you want to see it for yourself, come and stay at our luxury eco-lodge, Boucan, where you can enjoy the beautiful views and try the single origin chocolate from our very own plantation.

Supporting small cocoa farmers is very important to us. We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know the farmers who grow cocoa trees and we love to experiment with how the soil, climate and region affects the specific flavour of the bean by sourcing our beans for different regions.

We have a wide selection of single-origin chocolates so that you can hold your own chocolate tasting, savouring everything from the deep fruitiness of our Ecuadorian 100% to the nutty, butterscotch notes of our Nicaraguan 76% Supermilk.

The countries who are famous for chocolate have spent decades perfecting their recipes, but they are completely reliant on the equatorial countries who produce the beans in the first place. Cocoa farmers get a very small percentage of the $44.35 billion (£33.74 billion) chocolate industry, which is why at Hotel Chocolat, we support our cocoa farmers, guaranteeing their harvests and paying above market rate for their cocoa beans.

So, when you’re skipping round that Swiss chocolate factory or ambling through Belgian chocolate shops, remember to find out where the cocoa beans came from!