Mondelez International and its Cadbury Australia subsidiary is set to invest A$66m(US $59m) to grow capacity from 50,000 MT to 70,000 MT at its Hobart plant in Tasmania.
Australia’s opposition Coalition government intends to offer a A$16m (US $14m) subsidy for the upgrade should it come to power in federal elections next month.
The support includes ambitious plans to trial commercial cocoa cultivation in Northern Australia near the Ord River in north western Australia.
Australian cocoa growing: A decade in the making
In 1997, Barry Kitchen, who was research director for Cadbury Schweppes Australia at the time approached government agencies about growing cocoa in semi-tropical northern Australia.
In 2010, the Queensland government published a feasibility study after eight years of research.
The study found that growing cocoa in Australia was technically feasible and quality standards for ‘bulk’ cocoa could be achieved. It added that there was possibly strong demand from end users.
“The project has clearly demonstrated that cocoa production is feasible in northern Australia. The wet tropical coast of northern Queensland (Cardwell to Daintree) is environmentally suited to the production of high yields (up to about 3 t/ha dry bean) which meet commercial requirements in terms of size and physical/chemical characteristics,” said the research.
It found the Abbot-backed Ord River irrigation area less suitable due to its aridity.
Cadbury Australia cocoa sourcing
According to its website, Cadbury currently uses cocoa beans from Ghana and Asia for Australian products.
Most of the world's cocoa is grown in west Africa, namely the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Cocoa is usually cultivated 10 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates.
300 new jobs at Tasmania plant
The cocoa-growing trials form a part of the $59m investment at Cadbury’s Hobart plant in Tasmania, which falls in an electorate that is set to be hotly contested at the September 7 national poll.
Part of the outlay will be spent on constructing a new visitors centre at the plant, which is intended to support large tour groups and drive tourism to the region. Cadbury suspended tours of the plant in 2008 for safety reasons.
Money will also be spent on new barcode tracking technology to monitor the standard and quality of ingredients.
Speaking about the investment at a press conference leader of the Coalition opposition Tony Abbott said: "It will significantly expand exports and it will create and preserve jobs. More than 300 new jobs will be created as a result of this investment and almost 1,000 existing jobs will be preserved as a result of this investment.
The Coalition government said it made the investment to benefit Tasmania’s dairy industry, which accounts for 40% of income in the state.