Cocoa Pricing

Learn what drives cocoa commodity pricing and why cocoa market prices have evolved in recent years.

What drives cocoa pricing?

The price of cocoa is set in the commodities market, which is driven by supply and demand. Within this market, cocoa, like soy, sugar and cotton, is classified as a ‘soft commodity’, meaning it is cultivated, not mined or extracted from the Earth. 

Whenever cocoa supply is reduced or limited, the prices for chocolate go up. Because Ivory Coast and Ghana account for over 70% of the world’s global production, ongoings in these countries, such as political unrest, weather-related circumstances or border disruptions, cause tangible fluctuations in cocoa supply globally. Other leading cocoa-producing countries include Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and Indonesia.

Another factor which drives prices is when large chocolate producers attempt to lock commodity prices, such as cocoa, in what is known as hedging futures. In this scenario, buyers use forwarding contracts to guarantee the price will remain the same for a set amount of time. In recent years, efforts to stabilise cocoa prices have been widely criticised as they often lead to market failures and inefficiencies. This most recently included an incident of computerised trading on the New York market, where price developments in the futures market diverged drastically from the physical market.

 

Where is cocoa traded?

Today, cocoa is traded on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in London, which derives its prices from the African market, and the Net York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) which bases prices on the South-Asian market. 

 

What factors are expected to impact growth in the cocoa market in the upcoming years?

According to Business Wire, the cocoa market is expected to register a 4.09% CAGR from 2021-2025. The predominant factor driving this growth is the varied applications in different industries, including confectionery, beverages, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Growing understanding of cocoa’s benefits is driving demand in all these sectors. The cocoa market is segmented into three product types: cocoa powder, cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. The latter is expected to account for the largest market share of the three by 2026. It should be noted that the price of cocoa butter and cocoa powder can fluctuate independently of one another. Cocoa butter’s primary application is in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, whilst cocoa powder’s applications are in F&B. If the price of beans is stable, it is still possible for their prices to increase and decrease depending on demand.

 

Cocoa Pricing: A Brief History

The image below shows the most significant price fluctuations in the cocoa industry over the past 200 years. It becomes evident that civil unrest, production volumes, and the weather have always played a critical role in the rise and fall of cocoa prices.

Cocoa price fluctuations from 1825 - 2020 | Source: Winton

Looking at more recent developments concerning cocoa pricing, we compiled an overview of some of the cocoa market's more recent events and significant numbers.

2016
Côte d’Ivoire was the largest exporter of cocoa beans (USD 3.9 billion), and Ghana was the second-largest exporter of cocoa beans (USD 2.5 billion)
The Netherlands was the largest importer of cocoa beans (USD 2.6 billion) followed by Germany (USD 1.5 billion)

 

2017
Heavy rainfalls boost harvest volumes unexpectedly in Côte d’Ivoire.
Côte d’Ivoire was plagued by instability when farmers illegally undercut government prices while wholesalers held back and refused to buy.
Cocoa prices reach the lowest price on the New York Stock Exchange in 8 years.

 

2018
Poor yield returns and low prices make the sector unappealing to young workers, which i expected to result in long-term supply shortages.

 

2019
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, who account for +60% of the world’s cocoa production, create a stir when they announce plans to introduce new cocoa bean pricing systems; in an effort to help ensure that their cocoa producers earn a living range, they suspend forward sales of cocoa beans.
In the month following the announcement, global cocoa prices drop so drastically that chocolate traders and producers agree to pay a $400 a tonne premium on cocoa sales contracts.

 

2020
At the start of the season, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana opened the marketing season by announcing substantial increases in their farm gate prices.
As a result of the pandemic, cocoa prices (alongside those of other commodities) dropped drastically in March/April.
During the lockdown in Nigeria, Nigerian cocoa got stuck in ports and farmers were not able to spray their crops.

In August, Cocoa price (along with that of other commodities) regained momentum due to the limited drop in demand and investors’ willingness to look into commodities’ returns.

In October, Côte d’Ivoire raised the fixed farmgate price paid by more than 21%.

In November, Hershey bought up to 30,000 tonnes of cocoa from futures exchange ICE to avoid paying the added price premium per tonne; this results in rising tensions and clashes between cocoa producers and processors which triggers prices to soar.

 

2021
Because buyers are still refusing to pay cocoa farmers, warehouses are overflowing, and farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are battling poverty and hunger.

 

Cocoa price fluctiations from January 2020 - January 2021 | Source: tradingeconomics.com

 

Track Cocoa prices here:

Imagery: (1) Hector Emilio Gonzales, (2) Malik Skydsgaard via unsplash.com

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