The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) grows in tropical environments, within 15-20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. The main cocoa-growing regions are Africa, Asia and Latin America. 15% of global cocoa production comes from the Americas.

The cocoa market distinguishes three main varieties of cocoa beans:

1. High-grade, Criollo cocoa. The beans have a delicately bitter, aromatic flavour and are easily processed.

2. Common grade, Forastero cocoa.

3. High-grade, Trinitario cocoa. The special high-grade cocoa produced in Ecuador, Colombia and Perú is the basis of gourmet chocolate. This kind of cocoa accounts for just over 5% of world cocoa production, and is considered as a highly specialized market, with its own characteristics of supply and demand. Fine flavour cocoa beans receive higher prices in the market than bulk cocoa beans, due to their intrinsic quality but also marketing aspects (for example, elaborate stories, more transparency).

In the Amazon region, the production of cocoa is made under environmentally sustainable conditions, in tropical rainforest areas, and through the organic farming system. Unlike conventional cocoa, it is grown in association with other plant species and agroforestry systems, which contribute to the conservation of the regional ecosystems. Almost 100% of cocoa in this region comes from small, family-run farms. Strengthening this value chains has, therefore, a positive impact on employment and income generation of local producers and small local companies and cooperatives.

The chocolate market in Europe accounts for around 44% of the global market. It continues to grow mainly due to the high concentration of chocolate manufacturers and processing companies. In Europe, countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, and France, are well-known for their chocolate production. But also countries such as Netherlands, Germany, and Spain are important importers and producers. There is an increasing demand for high-quality and sustainably produced (fair) and organic cocoa. Fair trade and organic intermediaries such as GEPA, Biogarantie, Agence BIO, as well as small specialised producers such as Ethiquable, Alter Eco, Kaoka, Saveurs & Nature and Artisans du Monde have an interest in the Amazon cocoa. Certification according to standards such as Fairtrade, Organic, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance has also become important on the mainstream chocolate market.

Bean-to-bar manufacturing is becoming increasingly common in cocoa source countries. This type of manufacturing entails distinctive methods of production, packaging and direct shipping or sales to high-end outlets (for example, Harrods in London), thereby enabling a small number of producers to add significant amounts of value to cocoa production through quality branding and packaging, as well as by offering micro-lots with superior qualities and exclusive characteristics.

The producers in Ecuador, Colombia and Perú can benefit from a growing market for micro-lots (see the example for the coffee market: https://www.allianceforcoffeeexcellence.org/en/) and form a growing direct cocoa trade (see, for example, the platform http://www.directcacao.org/members/). Online sales gain importance as a distribution channel to the consumer and are expected to increase in the next years. It is crucial for producers who want to expert to the EU to keep in mind the quality requirements for cocoa of the Sustainable Cocoa Platform in Europe: http://www.cocoaquality.eu. (Link to the Quality Requirements document: http://www.cocoaquality.eu/data/Cacao%20en%20Grano%20Requisitos%20de%20Calidad%20de%20la%20Industria%20Apr%202016_es.pdf)

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