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Who Will Save the World’s Chocolate?

As climate change threatens cocoa crops, rival food companies are banding together

Harvesting a cocoa tree (Ann Johansson/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Climate change is threatening the world’s supply of chocolate, reports Grist’s Tove Danovich, and some of the largest food companies are banding together to protect its future.

During recent years, in the midst of a global chocolate shortage, rivals Mars Inc. and Hershey raced to decipher the cocoa plant's genetic code. Now, Mars is releasing its findings to the public—as well as its competitors. Genomic data may reveal how particular strains of cocoa resist disease and, possibly, survive a changing climate.

This kind of cooperation, or "pre-competitive research," is growing more common in the food business, Danovich writes. In 2011, Nestlé, Kellogg and several other large food companies worked with TI Food and Nutrition, a Dutch company, to study the microbes that foster gut health. Mars also partnered with dozens of groups to create a food safety center in Huairou, China, which opened in September. 

“It is our belief that it is in everyone’s best interest for the market to be safe,” Harold Schmitz, Mars’ chief science officer, tells Food Business News. So, what’s drawn these competing businesses together? As Danovich explains, problems with food safety can dissuade people from buying and weaken consumer trust in a particular type of food. When the whole system is safer, everyone stands to gain something—especially the manufacturers. 

Ultimately, the bottom line is what matters to these companies. Their collaborations, however, may mean that the world gets a long-lasting supply of chocolate. That’s good too: for the corporations that sell it, for the millions of farmers who grow it, and for anybody with a sweet tooth.

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