Việt Nam's cocoa revolution: quality beans to create sustainable growth

Friday, Mar 11, 2016 14:37

International and local experts in cocoa sector meet in the second Cocoa Revolution conference in HCM City  on March 10. — VNS Photo
HCM CITY – Việt Nam's cocoa sector should aim its sights at the premium chocolate market, the director of the International Cocoa Organisation's (ICCO) economics and statistics division has urged.

Speaking at the second Cocoa Revolution conference held in HCM City yesterday, Laurent Pipitone said that an ICCO panel of experts on Fine Flavour Cocoa recommended that Việt Nam's cocoa production be considered as having a fine flavour cocoa origin.

There is a huge price difference between fine flavour cocoa and ordinary cocoa. While ordinary cocoa is priced between US$2,800 and $3,300 per metric tonne, the fine flavour cocoa niche can fetch up to $5,000 per metric tonne, with high-grade cocoa commanding prices of up to $12,000 per metric tonne.

Demand for dark chocolate and fine flavour cocoa has risen dramatically, especially in Europe and the US, he said.

The direction now for Việt Nam is the focus on the quality for the premium chocolate market, he said

"You need to develop the volume of quality cocoa to have a bigger market share, which requires more investment to create larger cocoa estates," Pipitone said.

Gricha Safarian, managing director of Puratos Grand-Place Việt Nam, said the company had focused on improving quality as well as post-harvesting and fermentation over the last five years.

In 2013, the company received an award for the best cocoa in the Asia Pacific region in Paris for the cocoa beans grown in Bến Tre, the southern province of Việt Nam. Beans are expected to be classified as fine flavour cocoa by the ICCO, according to Safarian.

"We are the only chocolate company worldwide doing its own fermentation. Most companies buy fermented beans from farmers," Safarian said. "That's why we have control of the development of the fruity aroma in the Vietnamese bean."

The opening of a fermentation plant was one of the last steps taken to achieve full vertical integration from cocoa beans to chocolate bars, he said.

Asked about the sustainability of the sector, Safarian said: "I think we need to combine the action of the private sector and the Government, taking into account the interest of all stakeholders, including farmers, the industry and the Government. We'd like more land allocation for cocoa. On our side, we're working hard to improve farmers' income through higher yields and prices."

Đinh Hải Lâm, Việt Nam Cocoa Development Manager of Mars Foods Inc., said that businesses should play a leading role in technology transfer and ensure outlets for small households in the production chain. He also said the Government should have a credit policy for farmers so they can expand cultivation.

The cocoa industry has had support from the private sector, including from the Dutch government-funded PPP (public-private partnership) project for sustainable Cocoa in Việt Nam, which aligns public efforts with those by Mars, Puratos Grand-Place, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, IDH and Helvetas.

Phan Huy Thong, director of the National Agriculture Extension Centre and head of the Việt Nam Cocoa Committee, said the cocoa sector had not had stable development in the past decade, despite encouraging results.

The country has 11,200ha under cocoa cultivation, with productivity remaining low at an average of 0.85 tonnes of dry bean per hectare because of plant density, improper shade management, and lack of investment in fertilisers and pest control.

The Government has taken steps to improve infrastructure, expand training and strengthen linkages between stakeholders in the value chain.

This year, the ICCO expects a supply deficit for beans, which would offer cocoa-growing countries opportunities.

With nearly 50,000 ha of coconut and fruit trees in the Mekong Delta, and about 100,000 ha of cashew nut trees in the southeast and Highlands regions, there is huge potential to expand cocoa cultivation in Việt Nam, Thong said. –VNS

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