As cocoa price soars, chocolate makers devour substitutes

Fri Sep 5, 2014 1:00am EDT
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By Lewa Pardomuan and Marcy Nicholson

SINGAPORE/NEW YORK Sep 5 (Reuters) - Chocolate makers in the fast-growing Asian market are replacing a bigger proportion of cocoa butter, which gives confectionery its melt-in-the-mouth texture, with cheaper palm oil-based alternatives.

The move will help confectioners keep down prices in the price-sensitive region where chocolate sales are forecast to grow more than 5 percent this year to about 917,000 tonnes, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

This is well ahead of growth of less than 1 percent in the United States and about 1.5 percent in western Europe.

Palm oil-based butter mimics the taste of cocoa butter but is much cheaper. Higher demand for butter alternatives, known as cocoa butter equivalent (CBE), has pushed prices up by about 10 percent to $3,300 a tonne in the past year, but this is still more than $4,000 below the price of butter from cocoa beans.

"We don't normally buy CBE, but now we use it because of requests from customers," said Richard Lee, chief executive officer of Aalst Chocolate, a Singapore-based firm that sells chocolate to bakeries, ice cream makers and food manufacturers.

"When butter prices were low, we didn't even use CBE at all," said Lee, who estimated that the firm's orders for substitutes were three to four times higher than last year.

Confectioners in Asia and Europe are allowed to add cocoa butter equivalent to chocolate, but hold the maximum amount at 5 percent since a higher content can alter the taste and put off customers. In the United States, products using butter alternatives cannot be labeled "chocolate".


Men pour out cocoa beans to dry in Niable, at the border between Ivory Coast and Ghana, June 19, 2014.   REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon