Could Ebola Affect Chocolate Supplies?

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Oct. 9, 2014

CBS MoneyWatch - The ongoing Ebola epidemic is being closely monitored worldwide, while global organizations struggle to find methods to best contain the disease.

The Ebola outbreak's economic impact is also expected have long-lasting, international implications, including its effect on the supplies and prices of one of the world's most popular commodities: Chocolate.

West Africa produces nearly three-quarters of the world's cocoa -- with the nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana responsible for 60 percent of that supply. And while Ebola has not yet appeared in those two nations, their proximity to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone -- the current epicenters of the Ebola outbreak -- have led to concerns that any continued spread of the disease could also cause a major disruption in cocoa production, and another spike in world cocoa prices.

Global demand for chocolate has been rising for years now. Even before the Ebola outbreak began, some analysts were concerned about whether cocoa producers could keep up and remain sustainable with the world's insatiable appetite for chocolate. Cocoa prices also spiked last month, as word spread about the Ebola outbreak, but came down soon afterwards.

The uncertainty about cocoa supplies, meanwhile, is causing some jitters among chocolate-related industries around the world, and concerns about chocolate prices.

"If prices rise at a greater rate, chocolate manufacturers will pass the increase onto consumers," Andrew Rolle of Juremont, a major Australian importer of chocolate ingredients, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's a fragile market there at the best of times. There will be labor issues with the cocoa farmers in the fields, political issues, transport issues with accessing stock through ports."

Most major confectioners in the U.S. are reluctant to talk about how a potential cocoa shortage might directly affect them -- but chocolate giant Hershey did offer some perspective, saying the company is in close contact with its cocoa suppliers in West Africa over the Ebola outbreak and its potential impact on cocoa supplies.

"Our suppliers have assured us they will be able to continue to supply our cocoa orders without interruption, even if the disease begins to impact the major cocoa-growing countries in the region," Jeff Beckman, Hershey's director of corporate communications, tells CBS MoneyWatch.

Beckman also notes that, at least for now, cocoa production in West Africa hasn't been affected by the disease, and that operations at their cocoa suppliers continue, uninterrupted.

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