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Local chocolatiers face crazy cocoa market

By R.A. Monti
Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

The price of cocoa is up worldwide, an increase some local chocolatiers are eating, while others say they must pass it on to customers.

According to market-research firm Euromonitor International, the cost of1 kilogram of chocolate in the United States is expected to hit a record $12.25 this year, a 45 percent increase from 2007.

The price of chocolate has climbed from about $2,153 per metric ton in March to $2,736 this week — about a 27 percent change, according to the International Cocoa Organization.

A poor growing season in Africa — where most of the world's cocoa is harvested — combined with a high demand for the sweet stuff in Asia is to blame for the high prices.

Whether Alle-Kiski Valley candy-makers can absorb the cost depends largely on the size of their operations.

“I sign contracts every year with the company I get my chocolate from, and I just signed a new contract in June,” said John Mandak, owner of Valos Chocolates in Arnold. “It's a contract for 50,000 pounds of chocolate, and I didn't see any increase that would have to be passed on to the customer.”

Mandak said his chocolate increased in price by about 7 cents per pound, but he isn't rolling that hike into the price of his chocolate-covered cherries.

Mandak, who sells his chocolate out of his retail store in Arnold and in about 50 grocery stores, said he watches the cocoa market closely.

“I see this stuff on TV all the time, and I'm like, 'What are they talking about?' ” Mandak said. “I'm not seeing it.”

Mandak said if prices continue to go up, he might feel it in his next chocolate purchase in the spring.

Although Valos customers won't get a taste of the price hike yet, those who frequent some of the smaller chocolate stores in the Valley could see higher prices when they buy their holiday treats.

“It (the price of chocolate) is going crazy on me,” said Pete Basile, owner of Sweetlane Chocolate Shop in Vandergrift. “It has gone way up.

“It's going to up, the price of what I have to sell it for,” he added. “We try to not pass the price on to the consumer, but we have to make some profit.”

Basile said he buys his chocolate in 50-pound cases, which last about a month or two. He said the price of those cases has gone up about $40 per case in the past few months.

Basile said that along with the climbing price of cocoa, higher shipping costs have added to the price of chocolate in recent years.

Valerie Cannon opened Speckled Hen Chocolate Co., a Clinton Township specialty-chocolate store, in May and is nervous about how the high prices will affect her business.

“I haven't seen too much of a price increase yet,” said Cannon, whose store hand-dips every piece of chocolate it sells. “When they go up, it will be a ripple effect all the way through.

“We're a smaller operation, so I'm sure it'll hit us more,” she said. “It does worry me that demand will skyrocket.”

Cannon said she buys her chocolate when she needs it, something she fears might be a mistake.

“I'm new to all of this, and I'm probably not doing it right just yet,” she said. “It's one of those things that being so new to the business, I'm probably just being stupid.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.



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