Inside View: Chocolate at a crossroads

In this first exclusive column for International Confectionery, Technical Editor Clay Gordon writes about his personal struggle with marrying the universal love of chocolate and the struggles cocoa farmers face 

In what marks his first column for International Confectionery Magazine, Technical Editor Clay Gordon draws on his experience of 20+ years of experience working in chocolate and cocoa by writing about his personal struggle in marrying up the universal love of chocolate with witnessing market neglect and continual challenges faced by cocoa farmers. 

As Clay illustrates, there is increasing awareness around sustainability claims in chocolate, but that price will continue to be a major factor as consumers demonstrate what they’re willing to pay for a bar of chocolate. As a self-described chocolate communicator, spreading this kind of awareness and messaging can play a crucial role – which is what Clay does in this column.  


Chocolate makes me happy. Working with chocolate – getting my hands dirty, smelling it, tasting it – makes me happy. One of the reasons for these emotions is that I know that my works makes others happy, too. And it’s not just the aromas and the flavours of chocolate, it’s as if some of my happiness seeps into what I am making and those who consume it can sense my happiness. I get to see this in the smiles on people’s faces and is there any better compliment a maker can get than a quietly emphatic, “O. M. G!”? 

But, for a food that is the source of so much happiness, cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, is also the source of so much pain – individual, societal, and environmental. It’s often very hard for me to hold both of these realities in my head at the same time. As an industry observer, author, podcaster, and critic I sometimes despair over the industry’s – and consumers’ – ability to manage this cognitive dissonance. And decide, through action and inaction, that working to reduce and eliminate those pains is “not worth” the effort or the cost. 

On the one hand there is the perception, by a majority of consumers, that they deserve chocolate that is cheap, or at least below the fully burdened cost of production. Industry feeds that perception in many ways, from formulations that incorporate cheaper (in every way) ingredients to shrinkflation while extolling soft benefits like “sustainable packaging,” “reduced sugar/fat,” “Non-GMO,” and “better for you.” Consumers are happy to benefit from industry’s enthusiastic capitulation and appeasement, which in turn extracts a huge toll on the lives of cocoa farmers and their families, the communities they live in, and the ecosystems they are an integral part of. 

As I write this, the market price of cocoa, in constant-dollar terms, is at an all-time high. There are many reasons for this. One is that this year’s harvest is down, and for the third year in a row – demand is way ahead of supply. Is this the result of El Niño? Yes, in part. Could it be the result of changes directly attributable

Read the full feature in our magazine.

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Media contact

Caitlin Gittins
Editor, International Confectionery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920

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