With $70 million dollars in annual sales, organic chocolate is a tiny part of the estimated $6 billion US market, but like organic coffee, it's rapidly becoming mainstream, said Chris Samuel, spokesman for Green & Black's USA Inc, at the ninth Annual New York Chocolate Show yesterday.
Organic chocolate industry revenue is growing by 40 per cent a year, with Green & Black's controlling about 20 per cent of the US market, Samuel said.
''Taste is what started it but the press on health benefits has stimulated more interest in the natural organic market,'' Samuel said. ''Now there is an explosion of interest.'' Large and small chocolate companies are following the organic wave. A unit of Hershey Co maker of Hershey's Kisses and Reese's peanut butter cups, purchased Oregon-based Dagoba Organic Chocolate in October.
Hershey's move followed the acquisition by British-based Cadbury Schweppes
Jeff Shepherd, chocolatier and owner of Oregon-based Lillie Belle Farms, started offering organic chocolate, some flavored with berries, four years ago. Selling from the trunk of his car he made $500 his first year. He has since opened a small factory that generated gross revenues of 400,000 dollars in 2006, and he estimates he will do $1 million in 2007.
''People are starting to pay attention to what they put into their bodies,'' Shepherd said. ''And they also look at the little organic treats they put into their bodies.'' While most consumers focus on taste and health, manufacturers also point out the environmental benefits.
Made from cocoa grown in sustainable rain forests, free of herbicides and pesticides, and purchased from farmers who receive guaranteed prices under fair trade agreements, organic chocolate helps protect the environment, proponents say.
Organic chocolate costs more. A 43 g bar of Shepherd's chocolate is about 2.50 dollars compared with less than $1 for a regular chocolate bar from a corner store or vending machine.
Shepherd is undergoing the organic certification process and will spend an initial 7,000 dollars for approval and then annual fees.
REUTERS BDP RN0923