24 May 2024

With cocoa prices on the rise, the Junee chocolate factory is looking for suppliers closer to home

| Chris Roe
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two men standing in a cacao plantation

Neil Druce has just returned from a visit to cacao plantations in Vanuatu. Photo: Supplied.

The recent surge in global cocoa prices and the threat of shortages for chocolatiers has Aussie chocoholics on edge.

Fortunately, the Riverina’s number one source of the sweet stuff has a plan in place to keep the chocolate flowing.

The Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory is a leading tourist attraction in the Riverina and its products are sold across the country and overseas.

Owner Neil Druce said they were keeping a close eye on the rising prices.

“We are concerned, and if they go up as high as they’re talking, then those of us making good quality chocolate could be in trouble,” he said.

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“Unlike the cheap stuff where they substitute different ingredients, we use the whole of the cacao bean for our Belgian-styled couverture chocolate.

“The cheap stuff will probably stay cheap but the really good quality chocolate will become more expensive to make.”

[Editor’s note: Cocoa and cacao are different words for the same thing.]

assorted chocolates from Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory

Neil Druce wants to assure chocoholics that they will not run out of cacao any time soon. Photo: Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory.

Extreme weather impacting suppliers in West Africa saw the stock price of cocoa per tonne almost triple at the start of the year.

Neil said this had placed an increased demand on his suppliers in South America and prompted him to explore alternatives a little closer to home.

“We went to Vanuatu where we met with quite a few cacao farmers from one of the islands. We spoke with the chairman of the largest cacao plantations and met with different people who are producing chocolate,” he said.

“We’ve been sending a lot of emails and trying to figure out what’s the best way to move forward so I think it was a really successful trip.”

Cocoa is one of Vanuatu’s main exports, with the majority produced by smallholder farmers.

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The Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have also stepped up production to meet the growing demand and, while Neil said that the industry in Vanuatu is less developed, he sees plenty of potential in a Pacific partnership.

“I like the idea of working in the Pacific because I feel like we are neighbours and it would be great to source more locally grown cacao,” he said.

“The other part of it is that in Junee we have 48 people from Vanuatu that work at the abbatoirs and we’ve got to know them and I met their families when I went over there, so it’s a nice connection.”

While the potential partnership is in its early stages, Neil believes they would be able to do more processing in-house.

“I’m trying to figure out exactly how it will work, but I think we will have to process from bean to bar in Junee, which is more than we are doing at the moment,” he explained.

“We would also have input into how they farm their cacao to help to make sure they’re gonna get maximum production and good quality.”

In the meantime, Neil and the team assured Region they have plenty of cacao to keep the chocolate freckles and bullets coming.

“We’ve got the goods to make lots of those, so I think we’ll be OK,” he laughed.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep the price at a sensible level and we want to lock in that supply for the future.

“I don’t want people to be worried, because we are certainly not going to run out!”

Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.

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Bring on global warming: grow chocolate in Queensland.

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