Manufacturers around the world have whipped-up panic about a food shortage that will threaten our very existence. Alright, I got carried away there but can you imagine a world without chocolate? Cue sobs.Few months back, Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut--two of the world's biggest manufacturers of chocolate goods began to sound the alarm. "If we don't have more, a shortage could happen," warned Juergen Steinemann, head of Barry Callebaut. In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. And now manufacturers are predicting that by 2020, this number could swell up to 1 million metric tons (a 14-fold bump!). Should we believe these warnings? Here's unwrapping the bittersweet truth behind the panic. Supply and Demand ProblemsOne of the major problems lies with the supply of cocoa, the basic ingredient in chocolate. About 70% of the world's cocoa is produced in the Ivory Cost and Ghana but the unfavorable growing conditions and extremely dry weather in West Africa has damaged many cocoa plantations. Add to that, the spread of a fungal disease known as frosty pod. The International Cocoa Organization indicates that all these factors have quashed global cocoa production by 30 percent to 40 percent. On the flip side, the number of chocoholics around the world has seen a steep rise in the recent years. A growing fan base with insatiable love for all things chocolatey means more pressure on the limited supply. According to a London-based research firm Euromonitor International, chocolate sales in Asia are predicted to grow by 23 percent over the next five years and in Latin America by almost 31%. A growth of 8.3 percent in North America and 4.7 percent in Western Europe has been reported over the same period.Moreover, dark chocolate has been brought into the limelight by health experts owing to its antioxidant properties. The production of dark chocolate requires more cocoa than the traditional milk chocolate bars and its rising popularity is another reason to worry.Rising Prices, Reducing SizesDue to the supply-demand disparity, chocolate prices have shot up by more than 60 percent since 2012. Chocolate bars have not only become more expensive but some of them now come in reduced sizes in order to meet the increased demand. Certain companies have started promoting bars with fillers like nuts, nougat and crackles as a measure to preserve the cocoa supplies.The worst fear is that companies may have to switch to cocoa alternatives or use it in combination with ingredients like vegetable fat or other chemicals if the current situation does not improve.There's certainly some hope on the horizon. An agricultural research group in Central America is working on developing brave breeds of plants that can produce more cocoa beans and are also resistant to fungi. One of these is a breed called CCN51 that produces about seven times the amount of beans but it has quite a bitter flavour. Other engineered varieties like R-1, R-4, and R-6 bear flavours that are similar to cocoa. This leaves me wondering, can scientists replicate the exact flavor of cocoa or will we have to compromise on taste and quality?
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