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I hear from several chocolatiers that prices are rising on fine beans since they are becoming more popular and there's higher demand- but would that not eventually help the price go down since more will be grown and available? Any thoughts?

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The problem is that the supply is diminishing due to deforestation, fungus and other problems plaguing the wonderful Theobroma Cacao tree. So increasing demand with static or decreasing supply means higher prices for sure. What we will likely see is that the word "Chocolate" will be used to describe a brown chemical mess sold to the mass public at grocery stores and discount warehouses with no Cacao in the product. You will only be able to find Cacao based products at smaller fine retailers since the cost of Cacao bean will be prohibitive and they likely will pass laws allowing you to say it's "Chocolate" and have very little Cacao in the mixture. All this combined with the fact the Asian countries are getting quite a craving for Cacao spells trouble for the mass "Chocolate" producing companies and those of seeking "good" chocolate.
The cacao market is quite complex, so the answer to this is quite complex. First a few stats:

1) The current annual harvest for cacao is about 3 million metric tons (tonnes).
2) At the moment, supply and demand are roughly equal.
3) The current price for commodity cacao is about $1,700/tonne.
4) Specialty cacaos can command prices of up to $4,000/tonne
5) Worldwide demand for cacao is expected to increase by 50% over the next 10 years. Two things are fueling this demand:
5a) Increase in interest in high cocoa content bars.
5b) Large economies not normally considered to be chocolate eaters (including China and India with 1/3 or the world's population between them) are quickly developing an interest in chocolate.
6) The price for commodity cacao is expected to increase to $4,500/tonne.
7) Depending on the growing region, the percentage of the harvest that is left on the tree because of disease or insect damage is 30-80%.
8) Depending on the bean variety it takes between 2 and 5 years for a cacao tree to start producing harvestable pods.
9) Fine flavor cacao trees take longer to start bearing, produce fewer beans per tree, and are more susceptible to disease.
9a) Vietnam came from nowhere to become the 3rd largest coffee producer in the world in a very short time because of government interest and subsidies. They are embarking on a similar program for cacao.

When you take all of these factors into account:

A) The price for all chocolates will increase.
B) The desire (by manufacturers) to replace cocoa butter with cheaper fats will increase. This is likely to happen only for inexpensive mass market chocolates where price is a major consideration.
C) The increase in demand will increase planting of trees, but they will take several years to become productive. The major chocolate manufacturers will pressure growers to plant high-yielding bulk beans such as CCN-51 from Ecuador rather than flavor beans with criollo genes in them.
D) Because of the rise in the price of commodity cacao, farmers will be dis-incented to grow flavor beans because they can make a lot of money (comparatively speaking) growing commodity beans.

What will happen is that:

i) There will be an increased emphasis on farmer field schools to teach them techniques to reduce disease and insect damage and therefor increase yields from existing plantings. Experience suggests that farmer training can reduce lossses by 50% or more.
ii) Premium chocolate makers will start working very closely with their growers, buying beans directly and paying them directly in order to secure a lock on supplies. They will also start writing long-term contracts like the one Amedei has with Chuao in order to get farmers to continue to deliver fine flavor cacao beans.
iii) This interest by premium chocolate makers will lead to a rise in the production of fine flavor cacao but not enough to cover the shortfall.

In the end, the gap in price and quality between mass market and gourmet chocolate will increase even as the overall price for all chocolates increases.

The (relative) good news in this is that chocolate will still remain inexpensive compared with wines and balsamic vinegars, for example.
Yes, you are so right- Of all the obsessions we could have, Chocolate is still one of the most affordable. Even the finest bars are avail for $15-$20 usually, and good quality chocolate will always be within reach in comparison to wine etc....Thank goodness!
Is it true that Debauve et Gallais is still the most expensive chocolates in the world? Last i ckd it was $45/ lb.
Debauve and Gallais is nowhere near the most expensive chocolate in the world. One thing that most people don't know about them is that all the chocolate is made for them by Michel Cluizel. Most of the pieces are straight out of the Cluizel catalog and they don't even bother to change the names. Here in NY it sells for a lot more than Cluizel does, which shows you the value of strong branding.

Godiva's G line is well over $100/lb and has been made by Norman Love down in Fort Myers, FL. I know that Richart chocolates are well over $100/lb - and that was before the dollar started to sink relative to the Euro. Ortrud Munch Carstens, who makes chocolates to order from her workshop here in NYC was charging $100/lb four years ago.

There are quite a few chocolates in the $60-85/lb range. The trick is to think of their price by the piece, Yes, La Maison du Chocolat might be $90/lb, but I can buy a selection of 6-8 pieces for not much more than $10. Very affordable when you think of it that way.
Thank you so much Clay for all the great insider info- I had a suspicion Cluizel made D&G chocs - I remember walking into their NY store, picking out 3 small pieces and the clerk said- That will be $15- I almost choked! I politley narrowed my choice to one (dark croquant) and later when i went to M. Cluizel in the ABC Carpet store the piece i bought was there too! But I dismissed it, like "that cant be., 2 totally diff brands"........ but Voila, they are one! I forget the price diff but yes it was less. Branding is a VERY powerful tool indeed.
You are a fountain of knowledge.....
I'm new to the world of fine chocolate so my experience is very limited. I've only been seriously learning about this for about 15 months. So from my limited experience here are some expensive chocolates that I've found so far:

Amedei I-Cru sampler (12 pieces of 6 kinds of 70%), $120/ lb at Chocosphere

Then there's what I (not very politely) call the scammers:
1) Noka. most expensive is Vintages Collection, 4 piece box, at $2080/lb
Good investigative journalism discovered this. Read the synopsis version here from seventypercent.com or the full version here. The journalist determined the weight of 1 piece, so I'll assume that his calculations are correct.

2) Cocoa Gourmet. They offer gold and silver leaf covered chocolates. Their most expensive is US$253/piece!!. (It's US$506 for 2 pieces.) But they don't give any information about the weight of each piece so there's no way to know what the price is per pound. Maybe someone can find out the weight of 1 piece and let us know. Just looking at it it looks like each piece is well under 2 oz (by way of reference a 100 g bar = 3.5 oz). So if a piece is under 2 oz. then it will be over $2000/lb!! And if I read it right they unabashedly say that it's just couverture, so I assume someone else makes it and sends the chocolate to Malaysia for packaging.

Unbelievable what people will pay for packaging a mystique of prestige! I imagine the owners of Noka and Cocoa Gourmet sitting at polished mahogany board room tables, counting their obscene profit margins, and just laughing at the foolishness of those willing to buy this stuff.

P.S.- To talk about weight it seems to me that it be the easiest and the most universal to use the metric system and use 100g or even 1kg instead of pounds.
I do realize this is NOT fine chocolate by any means, but here is an article explining why Hershey is raising their prices:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22882731/from/ET/
According to ICCO, the International Cocoa Organization, the cacao production deficit this year will be 245,000 tonnes (a tonne is a metric ton, 1000 kg, or about 2,200 lbs). This amount is 55% greater than initially forecast.

According to the report, "The news could indicate further commodity pressure for manufacturers, many of whom have already suffered decreased margins because of higher costs in recent months."

In related news, the Vietnamese government announced late last year that they expect their crop to grow to 45,000 tonnes by 2015 and 108,000 tonnes by 2020. This is from virtually zero ten years go.
Does this mean we will (or already have?) seen bars made from Vietnam grown beans (origin bars)? Are they regular mass market beans or will they grow fine beans too - anything special about Vietnam cacao?
I don't know of any company (outside of Vietnam) who makes an origin bar made with Vietnamese cocoa beans. However, if a manufacturer was using them in a blend it would be impossible to know. Vietnam is not known for quality coffee and from what I've been told about their cacao growing efforts they are choosing quantity over quality. I doubt very much that we'll see much, if any, fine flavor cacao out of Vietnam in the foreseeable future.
From this article at MSN Finance:

"Chocolate prices soar

Thursday is Valentine's Day, and that means big business for the chocolate industry. Lovers and friends around the world send and receive boxes of chocolates in all shapes and sizes.

But for chocolate makers, the news isn't so sweet: A global surge in cocoa futures has their costs soaring. Cocoa futures for March delivery traded at $2,485 per metric ton in Wednesday's session, a three-year high and nearing a 23-year record; the last time cocoa traded above $2,500 was April 1985.

"Prices are a lot higher this year," said Alaron Trading's Boyd Cruel, who trades cocoa. In February 2007, cocoa traded at $1,600 to $1,700. "This is definitely going to affect those chocolate makers," Cruel said."

Cruel, indeed.

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