Shea-ring the benefits: Confectionery industry rallies behind affordable, sustainable and quality ingredient

By Vladimir Pekic

- Last updated on GMT

Shea-ring the benefits: Confectionery industry rallies behind affordable, sustainable and quality ingredient

Related tags Chocolate

Shea continues to be an important, high quality ingredient that offers the confectionery industry numerous technical advantages and competitive price points, as well as important benefits to African communities. 

Joseph Funt, managing director of non-profit organization Global Shea Alliance (GSA) told ConfectioneryNews: “We expect continued strong interest in shea based ​cocoa butter equivalents (CBEs) for these very reasons​.”

According to the GSA, demand for cocoa butter equivalents (CBEs) such as shea has remained stable over the past two years on a global level, although there has been new growth in South America and some reduction in Eastern Europe due to the volatile political situation.

Shea butter

Shea is present in the big cocoa producing countries in Africa such as Ghana and Ivory Coast, but it also grows in other countries – like Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Togo. Shea grows in the northern parts of these countries – stretching in a belt just below the Sahel region.


The growing regions for shea and cocoa are actually different and the communities that source shea and cocoa are different.

Rising demand and greater industry involvement can sometimes put great pressure and even adversely affect a crop, sometimes leading to massive overexploitation. However, in the case of shea, the opposite is true. 

Whilst cocoa trees are planted and are cultivated in plantations, shea trees occur naturally on farmlands and in fallows. Increasing demand for shea provides an important incentive to protect the existing trees. Otherwise, they may be removed to clear land or to be used as firewood or charcoal. Women in these communities pick the fruit that fall from these shea trees and they process the kernel and sell it for further processing into shea butter.

Many chocolate manufacturers then use shea butter globally as an alternative fat for cocoa butter as it contains a desirable high quality fat for the confectionery industry. Consequently, shea butter prices are determined by cocoa butter prices, not by cocoa prices.

It [shea] can also be produced in large quantities, is widely available in Africa, and has a high kernel fat content. Shea also has numerous technical advantages including the ability to modify melting curves, improve product shelf life, and create consumer-preferred textures​,” said Funt. 

Support from Hershey’s

The GSA currently has 350 members from 25 different countries, including several heavyweights from the global confectionery industry, such as The Hershey Company (joined in 2013) and Nestlé (joined in 2014).

This is not as surprising as it may seem at first glance, as more than 90% of exported shea ends up in confectionery products.

The Hershey Company, an active and supportive member of the GSA, told ConfectioneryNews: “The Global Shea Alliance provides us with the ability to network with industry partners within the shea sector both from a sustainability and supply chain perspective​”. 

The Hershey Company established sustainability initiatives around several ingredients, shea being one of them. “Shea is an important component within our non-chocolate products like Hershey’s Cookies 'n' Creme. The production of high quality shea butter and increasing farmer income is a key priority as we talk about the long term viability of shea farming​,” explained Eric Boyle, senior manager for sourcing of global commodities at The Hershey Company.

Hershey’s annual consumption of shea butter - a component of CBEs used to make the white coating in Cookies’n’Crème and other chocolate flavored coatings - is about 2,200 MT.

The USA prohibits the use of fats other than cocoa butter in any product that is labelled 'chocolate'. However, the use of alternatives to cocoa butter in chocolate confectionery is permitted in a number of countries, including the EU, Brazil and Australia, according to LMC International. These alternatives include CBEs and cocoa butter substitutes (CBSs).

CBEs represent about 2% of Hershey’s annual ingredient spend and CBEs are either a blend of palm oil and shea or a blend of palm oil and sunflower oil, according to a presentation given last year by Ray Major, senior manager of sustainability initiatives at The Hershey Company.

Empowering African women

The Hershey Company recently announced its partnership with IOI Loders Croklaan, a global shea butter supplier, to fund the construction of three warehouses in northern Ghana that will improve incomes for women shea farmers and positively influence their livelihoods.

Hershey and IOI Loders Croklaan will provide funding to StarShea, a social business that commercializes shea butter supplied by its network of rural Ghanaian women, to construct three warehouses allowing the women’s cooperative to store shea nuts throughout the season, which will help increase the women’s profit for their shea crop

We know that empowering women provides economic growth opportunities and helps alleviate extreme poverty. Women in Northern Ghana are producing high-quality shea, and they deserve a fair price for their crop​,” said Frank Day, Hershey’s Vice President of Global Commodities.

Nestlé tracing shea origin

Nestlé, another prominent GSA member, buys around 8,000 MT of shea fat a year and uses shea in a number of products including confectionery.

In 2013, Nestlé undertook a sourcing survey to identify the major countries of origin for shea, and to begin tracing the supply chain back to the level of grower co-operatives.

The company revealed that 40% of the volumes of the 12 priority categories (palm oil; soya; sugar; pulp and paper; coffee; cocoa; dairy; fish and seafood; shea; vanilla; hazelnuts; and meat, poultry and eggs) are to be traceable by 2015.

To assist us in reaching our ambitions, we became a member of the Global Shea Alliance in 2014​,” said the company.

Industry event

The GSA scheduled its 2015 Shea trade & industry conference for May 11 in New York City, including a special session on the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration to establish industry goals and create powerful changes that secure the shea supply in Africa.

The GSA launched a sustainability program in 2014 and more than 36 partners are now undertaking projects that promote women’s empowerment and healthy tree populations. Many of the partners will present their projects at this event.  Our goal is to promote these meaningful initiatives and gain additional support from US stakeholders​,” Funt concluded.

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