A concept launched by cocoa growers in South America to overcome the monopolistic tendency that crept among large buyers and caught the fancy of farmers in other countries is now developing in India.
Known better as the “Bean-to-bar” concept, it involves growers adding value to the cocoa they produce and selling it to small manufacturers of premium chocolate rather than to a large producer.
This helps them get a 20-30 per cent premium for the fine-flavour cocoa they supply rather than sell just dried and fermented cocoa beans.
So far, the concept has resulted in quite a few farmers converting their beans into fine-flavour cocoa and four of them even setting up their own chocolate production units.
In India, cocoa is grown in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Barring Kerala, cocoa is grown as an intercrop in coffee, arecanut, coconut or oil palm farms.
“By the end of this year, there could be 40 business-to-business buyers of these fine-flavour cocoa and at least 7-8 farmers could be setting up their own production units,” says Nitin Chordia, India’s first chocolate taster who runs Cocoshala – a training -cum-incubation centre for small chocolate makers.
It also trains farmers to produce quality cocoa and even turn entrepreneurs.
Stating that farmers are moving away from selling their produce to large chocolate producers, he says that they now want to add value to the cocoa they produce as it fetches them a premium.
Cocoa emerges as a pod from the tree. The pod, which is the size of a football, is split open, and the beans are removed. The beans are then fermented, dried and sold to large manufacturers.
The large manufacturers get these beans that may not be adequately fermented or dried most of the time. As a result, they go in for alkalization to ensure consistency in the quality of the chocolate they make.
They then add butter, sugar, put the ingredients in a mould and manufacture the chocolate.
Since the large manufacturers make bulk purchases from the farmers and accept whatever quality delivered, there is no incentive for growers to add value or follow processes such as fermentation properly, says Chordia, also the founder of Cocoatrait.
In view of this, large producers offer ₹180 a kg to growers.
“The bean-to-bar concept is to make growers aware of value-addition to produce fine-flavour cocoa. A lot of care goes during the post-harvest period with growers being guided and trained to store, ferment and dry the beans,” Chordia says.
Fermentation is the most critical part of processing cocoa, and by ensuring it is done properly, growers benefit tremendously. “Small growers fetch as much as ₹280 kg for supplying fine-flavour cocoa,” he says.
GVSR Prasad, a farmer who grows cocoa as an intercrop with coconut at Tadikalapudi village in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district, says large chocolate manufacturers are currently paying growers about ₹185 per kg of cocoa against ₹210 a few years ago.
For over three decades, Prasad, who has been into cocoa farming, switched over to supplying his beans to small manufacturers a year ago.
“In the old process, we were able to utilise only 70 per cent of the cocoa we produced. Now, we are able to make use of 95-96 per cent of our produce,” he says, adding that the change has come about with the shift to organic farming.
Devansh Ashar has been making chocolates since 2015, sources fine-flavour cocoa from the Idukki and Malabar regions of Kerala. “We are the first one to be certified as an organic producer by the US Department of Agriculture. We are also the first to get Fair Trade certification,” he says.
Ashar, whose firm makes Pascati brand chocolates, says that his firm pays a premium of 15-20 per cent to the growers besides an additional two per cent for every invoice as part of the Fair Trade process.
Some 1,400 growers supply cocoa to him through two farmer producer organisations, and his firm produces chocolates of a different flavour. “Flavour depends on how the bean is roasted to ensure the chocolate has nutty or fruit flavour. The flavour also differs from each State,” he says.
Karthikeyan Palaniswamy, who produces the Soklet brand of premium chocolate, says his firm grows its own cocoa and makes chocolate out of it. “We follow the tree-to-bar concept and it ensures we get additional value to the cocoa we produce,” he says.
More return per gram
People like Palaniswamy derive that they stand to get three to four times the value for the cocoa they produce compared with supplying the beans to large producers. “We get additional returns since we add value by selling finished and packaged products,” he says.
Chordia says that small manufacturers of premium chocolates can pay higher prices to growers since they fetch better per gram returns on chocolate.
“For instance, large makers sell chocolates at ₹1 per gram. Premium makers sell anywhere between ₹3 and ₹5 per gram of chocolate. It is a win:win situation for all,” he says.
Palaniswamy says that his company sells a 55 gm chocolate packet at ₹200.
Small manufacturers make chocolate that cater to healthcare concerns, says Chordia. “There are makers who add less sugar and no milk. We produce chocolate with khandsari (unrefined sugar) and sell it as an organic product,” he adds.
Dark chocolate growth
The advantage of such premium chocolates is that it is witnessing phenomenal growth in the last few years. “For example, the growth in dark chocolate has been at least 50 per cent in the last couple of years. At least one in three buyers opts for dark chocolate,” Chordia says.
While diabetic patients naturally opt for dark chocolate, the Covid pandemic has also resulted in its growth. “Consumption of dark chocolates has increased during Covid since many feel it can help them fight Coronavirus,” he says.
The Centre’s support to local industries and businesses is also helping the small manufacturers, the chocolate taster adds.