Crafting the Traceable Cocoa Supply Chain 

, 8 minute read

Quick summary: The bean to bar chocolate story is a bumpy one and has many hidden facts. Discover how traceability helps the cocoa supply chain to conquer its bitter sweet challenges.

The glittering wraps with a sumptuous choco treat inside have traveled a long journey to reach your hands. Uncover the story of the cocoa beans as it unfolds layer by layer amidst twists and turns in its long journey. 

Cocoa is obtained from beans extracted from the fruit of the cacao tree. The cacao bean starts its life inside a fruit called the pod on the cacao tree. These trees are found primarily in South America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. They are normally farmed using sustainable methods and grow in tropical forests with other crops like bananas and palm trees. It is a long journey to transform the cocoa pod into a chocolate bar with many stages along the way. All these stages impact the flavor, texture, and taste of the delicious chocolate treat. Chocolate makers often indulge in exploring the wonders of this bean. 

The Cocoa story unfolds…

The cocoa story starts from the farms from where the beans are harvested, fermented and dried. They are then transported either to cleaning warehouses or processing companies. 

Cocoa farmers open the pods, scoop out the seeds, ferment and dry them. They are roasted and then they enter the grinding and conching stages where they are finely powdered to smooth chocolate. It is during the conching process that other ingredients like sugar and milk powder are added.

Good tempering gives a shining finish to the chocolates. The final step from the bean to the bar is pouring the liquid chocolate into the moulds. This is followed by packaging, distribution, and retail. 

The cocoa value chain starts from the farmers to the local buyers, local processors, or international buyers who distribute it to the chocolate and cosmetic industry. The supply chain is complex and passes through many hands before it hits the supermarket shelves. A lot of data is generated in the whole cycle which needs to be secure and also authenticated.

The demand for provenance is high among the consumers for cocoa and its products. 

The Bittersweet challenges 

The complexity of the cocoa value chain renders it vulnerable to several challenges and the adoption of sustainable practices. There is also a huge dependency on the small land cocoa farmers for cocoa production with the increase in global demand for the product. 

  • The cocoa chain has a number of stakeholders in the chain who are unknown to each other. Cocoa farmers get the least sharing of earnings among stakeholders in the cocoa chain. 
  • The cocoa farmers are significantly below the poverty line and this has led to child labor posing a threat to the health of these children. 
  • Farmers have financial constraints and cannot afford to buy fertilizers and pesticides and equipment to increase yield. 
  • Cocoa production drives deforestation. Due to prevailing poverty, forests have been depleted to allow farmers to grow more cocoa. 
  • Farmers are involved in illegal areas of cultivation impacting the environment and questioning sustainability. 
  • Farmers having access to membership of cooperatives and other Food producing organizations are less. 
  • The opaque nature of the supply chain lets these smallholder farmers to sell their product directly to middlemen who in turn sell it to large organizations. Lack of transparency results in loss of product authenticity. 
  • Diversity of clients in the chocolate manufacturing sector. 
  • Cocoa beans are mixed with other varieties in downstream stages of the chain leading to compromise in quality. 

The sweet journey from bean to bar 

Cocoa farm 

The usage of mobile phones, ICT technologies, GPS mapping, and digital data collection through IoT sensors help in bringing greater traceability and hence transparency in the system. Capturing farm data in real-time will boost productivity and yield. It can also detect illegal sourcing and the risk of deforestation. These risks can be flagged and remedial measures are taken. Onboarding cooperatives will help in bringing visibility to the farmer and they will be able to sell sustainable products. 

The cocoa plots declared by the farmer are mapped and other farmer details are recorded to track the product provenance. The farmers take care to see that illegal plots covering deforestation areas are avoided to take care of sustainability certifications. 

Bean bag labeling 

The cocoa beans are fermented, dried, and packed into bags to be sent to processors. Certification of products is a traceability requirement. Mass balance, segregation, and identity preservation are the traceability requirements. 

Mass balance requires the origin and quantity of certified cocoa purchased by the first buyer. It compares the weight of certified cocoa between the stages from processing to distribution in the supply chain to check for consistency.  

Segregation allows mixing cocoa from different origins subject to satisfaction of certification requirements. Identity preservation does not allow mixing certified cocoa with conventional one or mixing them with other origins, thus ensuring the highest traceability.  

Cocoa bags are normally identified with unique identifiers. It could be tags, barcodes, or QR codes. Identity preservation helps to identify the batches and can be easily tracked in case of product recalls. 

Transport and Shipment 

The bean bags with the traceability certificate are shipped to the chocolate processors. The traceability certificates carry information about the origin of these beans and the volume delivered. 

Bean to chocolate processing 

Once the beans arrive for processing, they are again subject to quality checks to ensure that beans that meet standards make their way forward to the processing plants. The cocoa bean quality is important in chocolate processing. Relevant MRL tests are performed to confirm levels of chemical residues and satisfy the food safety standards. Verification of the intrinsic quality of beans will ensure an authentic and safe product for the consumer.  

Fermentation is the first step which gives out products like chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. This is followed by winnowing where cocoa nibs are ground into fine pieces. These cocoa nibs are roasted to give the chocolate the dark brown color, flavor and aroma. Roasted nibs are milled to get the chocolate liquid. This liquid also called the mass is used for getting other cocoa products. 

The chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar are mixed in different proportions to realize different chocolate blends. Conching gives the smoothness and flavor and tempering gives the sheen and crispness to the chocolate. The chocolate mass is then cooled and poured into moulds to get the delicious brown bars.

Final journey to the shelf 

The chocolate being sensitive to humidity is stored in ideal conditions to increase shelf life and finally packed in jute bags. These are then transported to distributors and retailers. 

Blockchain cocoa traceability leads the way forward 

Transparency is the key factor to make the cocoa value chain beneficial to all. Traceability provides the required level of transparency which in turn takes you closer to sustainability. 

 A transparent cocoa chain is beneficial to all the stakeholders in the value chain starting from the farmer, trader, processor, chocolate manufacturer, and consumer. The application of Blockchain in the cocoa supply chain can make the traceability journey from the bean to the bar easy and visible.  

Blockchain facilitates the exchange of information among stakeholders, validates the quality of food as it moves down the chain, and gives a digital identity to the product. 

As each participant edits data on real time basis with the consensus of the others, there is end to end visibility and a trusted platform is built among the stakeholders.

It particularly helps farmers who get better visibility and access to international markets. The farmers get a fair price for their product 

Tracking forward and tracing backward fulfills the consumer’s demands on the provenance of the product.

The customer is aware of the beans of different origins, tastes, and other profiles. Blockchain technology can manage the flow of complex data and create products that are authentic and credible.  

The Cocoa Traceability treat 

The transparency across the cocoa supply chain brings a lot of benefits to all the stakeholders and to society as a whole. The ability to trace the origin of cocoa and contribute towards sustainability will build strong consumer brands and a strong cocoa economy. Traceability brings value to the sustainability initiatives of chocolate manufacturers. A better understanding of cocoa bean production and the supply chain will enhance the market value. It could improve governance, adapt to regulations and increase market efficiency across the entire value chain. 

TraceX’s blockchain powered traceability solutions will provide the biting edge to ensure a transparent and sustainable cocoa value chain.

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