Cocoa bean shortage increases chocolate costs

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - We've got some news that will give chocolate lovers heart palpitations: There is a chocolate shortage! Confectioners say it's getting more expensive to buy cocoa beans.

Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate. It's all a chocolate lover's dream. But you could wake with a start. There's a cocoa bean shortage.

Said chocolate connoisseur Katherine Timberlake, "Oh, that's not good news. Not good news for a chocolate person is it?" she laughs.

Most cocoa beans are grown in developing countries in Africa and South America, where political unrest, a lack of farming skills, and bad weather are limiting production.

"In particular over the last year, we've seen a 25% increase in the price of chocolate," said Matt Gearhart of Gearhart's Chocolates on Libbie Avenue.

Most chocolatiers say they're absorbing the price increase. They don't want to pass it on to customers.

"We probably won't make any huge changes to prices in the store until it gets unbearable," said James Kinard, owner of For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown.

"We've been able to shield the consumer from some price increases because we've taken out the middle man and gone to the source, the manufacturer of the chocolate we use," Gearhart said.

You may not necessarily see a price increase in the types of chocolate you buy in the store everyday, such as M&M's or Snickers. But it's items that are made specially, completely of chocolate, where you might see a price hike.

Mars Inc, based in McLean, Virginia, expects a major cocoa shortage by 2020. That caused the company to develop a sustainability program that includes teaching farmers better skills, developing a cocoa genome for faster growth, giving farmers disease-resistant trees, and buying certified cocoa that benefits farmers and the respects the environment.

The good news is that all the confectioners we talked to say, "Chocolate lovers, don't panic."

"Nothing to worry about. There's plenty of cocoa bean to go around," said Kinard.

You just may have to pay a little more for it.

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