Chocolate consumption is on the rise, but production is on the decline. Companies are becoming more interested in alternate, lab-based production processes as a result of this challenge. Several stakeholders have been raising the alarm and forecasting a “chocapocaylpse,” or worldwide chocolate shortage, since 2018. On the one hand, the global market is fast rising – to the point that, according to one projection, it might double by 2025, reaching more than $170 billion.
Europe and North America use more than half of worldwide production. Demand is exploding in emerging countries, which are drawn by conceptions of “coffee culture.” According to an article published in The Conversation, chocolate consumption in India increased by 50% between 2011 and 2016. Supply, on the other hand, is growing scarce.
Cocoa tree diseases are wreaking havoc on crops, prompting growers to shift their focus to other profitable crops like rubber or palm oil. Cocoa farming, according to the WWF, has resulted in huge deforestation in West Africa, as well as child labour for dangerous tasks, particularly in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
Faced with these threats, some producers are focusing on sustainable development, such as the Mars or Milka brands. But others are turning to more radical alternatives. Researchers at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) have developed a technique for growing chocolate in a laboratory. “Here in the lab we are actually just imitating processes that happen in nature,” Regine Eibl, a researcher at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), told Swiss Info. To produce this chocolate, the cocoa fruit must first be cleaned, then the beans must be sterilized, quartered with a scalpel, and incubated in a culture at 29° in the dark. Within three weeks, crusts are formed. These calluses are then harvested, placed in flasks and shaken in a bioreactor — a kind of large tank. The resulting product can be grown indefinitely and is more environmentally friendly, although the energy footprint of the production process has not yet been calculated.
Other companies interested in the field include California Cultured, Voyage Foods and Qoa. Based in Munich, the latter is interested in manufacturing chocolate with yeast and “precision fermentation.” Qoa claims to be able to produce chocolate that is 20% cheaper than conventional chocolate. However, we’re not likely to be sampling lab-grown chocolate anytime soon, as, for the moment, none of these companies has announced the release of this kind of product on the consumer market.