Cocoa Panic Sends Candy Makers Into Lab

Start rationing your Hershey's and Take 5 bars now, because chocolate candy as we know it may disappear in the near future.

The Cocoa Research Association announced last month that global consumption of chocolate is increasing well beyond the rate of cocoa production, a situation it deemed unsustainable, according to the British Telegraph.

While chocolate won't go extinct, independent groups speculate that it will become significantly more expensive in the next couple of decades, making it impossible to produce the kind of cheap chocolate products we enjoy today.

Chocolate prices have already soared, but that's more tied to speculation in the commodity, since this summer the Armajaro hedge fund's Anthony Ward spent $1 billion to corner the market, buying 240,100 tons of cocoa beans and hiking prices to levels not seen since the late 1970s. One way around the devious plot of "Chocolate Finger," as some call Ward, and other speculators: Buy fair-trade cocoa, which isn't linked to the markets, and you avoid market volatility.

That doesn't solve the production problem, though.

"In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar," John Mason, executive director of the Nature Conservation Research Council, told the Independent. "It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."

Fortunately, as Popular Science notes, major chocolate manufacturers such as Hershey's ( HSY) and Mars are working to genetically engineer cocoa trees to boost chocolate production. Mass-market chocolate, especially in the U.S., doesn't use a lot of real cocoa now, suggesting Americans might accept substitutes in their Hershey's or Tootsie Roll Industries ( TR) products. The Cadbury's stuff made by Kraft ( KFT) for the Brits might pass muster with a little more chemical, too.

Lovers of high-end chocolates should brace themselves for a jolt, though, including buyers of Godiva, which is owned by Hershey's in the U.S.

Prices will likely increase either way, so one day we may boast to our grandchildren that candy bars cost just $1 in our day, rather than the price of a second mortgage. Naturally, they'll assume we are delusional.

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