Transparency, trust and collaboration were the main themes of the morning session at Chocovision 2018, a biennial get together for leading stakeholders and businesses involved in the chocolate industry.
Adding into the mix was technology. Ian Roberts, chief technology officer at Bühler Group, told delegates “technology is not trust, trust is a human characteristic”.
Latest digital technology such as blockchain can support that trust, but there are risks as well as opportunities that come with new transparencies, he said.
In the most entertaining talk of the day, Peter Schwartz, senior vice president for strategic planning at Salesforce, and a former Nasa scientist, said that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Embedded Intelligence (EI) a more narrow speciality, would be major drivers in “turning the planet into a sustainable garden”.
Schwartz, who was also a script consultant for Steven Spielberg on the film Minority Report, said the chocolate industry will not be precluded from the digital revolution. He told awe-struck delegates that AI will even support genetic engineers developing cocoa plants.
Brave new world
Picking up on that theme and running with it into a brave new world of bio-digital convergence was Caleb Harper, director at MIT Media Lab, and responsible for its Open Agriculture Initiative.
He talked about a fourth agricultural revolution, driven by start-ups experimenting with bio-diversity, using MIT open source genomic technology to predict weather patterns, climate change, soil analysis, etc. Digitizing cocoa with public access data could be next – and he invited manufacturers in the audience to speak to him if they would like MIT to develop open source data to produce cocoa in a more sustainable way.
As delegates are well aware at this year’s Chocovision, sustainable farming and deforestation are key concerns for the industry. Christian Westermann and Michael Mazur, partner of PWC Digital Services and global head of PwC Drone Powered Solutions, respectively, said drones and AI will help advance analytics in complex and socio-political environments to “reimagine today the world of the future”.
If change is not instigated adequately or fast enough then in two years, when Chocovision reconvenes, “many of us will not be here, because the way we operate is fundamentally not so correct,” warned Pladis CEO Cem Karaka.
“Digital transformation is helping us to put the consumer at the heart of our products,” he said. Karaka sees a future where the chocolate industry will not require special sales, marketing and R&D roles, which caused a few delegates to shift uncomfortably in their seats, instead the industry will be made of “generalists”, with research carried out directly by the consumer through social media.
As if this warning was not enough, Schwartz also told delegates they should be worried by Amazon and its voice controlled internet assistant Alexa. “They are not your friend,” he said. “Amazon is the end of brands – and it is likely to be a big player by producing its own brand chocolate” in the not too distant future.
Vincent Zeller, entrepreneur and president of Immobiliaria Guangala, provided a more down to earth viewpoint, from the forests of equatorial Ecuador. Over the past decade, Ecuador has increased its cocoa production by 40% and is now the fourth largest producer in the world.
Part of Ecuador’s rise is down to technology, specifically drone technology, said Zeller, where the data harvested from the skies has allowed farmers to improve agriculture on the ground.
While warning delegates that lower cocoa prices will have a negative impact on Ecuador’s production, he was more optimistic about the increase in young people attracted to studying agriculture and working with new technology.
“What about sustainable consumption?” said Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at UK retail and grocery store Marks & Spencer, throwing a couple of curveballs at delegates.
Where is the green premium? Who is paying for it? It was clear from M&S’s research that consumers do not feel they should have to pay extra for organic or sustainably sourced goods, he said.
“Why should I pay more for a product that has not exploited other people or the planet,” was the feedback he had received from M&S Food Halls, middle class temples where shoppers have been happy to pay a little more for basic quality in their shopping baskets.
He calculated that chocolate is used in approximately 25% of M&S foodstuffs, so he was acutely aware of production versus sustainability. He foresees more disruption in the market; retail disruption, sustainability disruption and he challenged manufactures and retailers to re-engage with their consumers who will not tolerate paying more for sustainable products. They should be a given.
After panel discussions in the afternoon on farmer poverty in the cocoa industry and deforestation, Christiana Figueres proved an inspired choice to deliver the keynote address.
Figueres, an international authority on climate change and widely recognized for orchestrating the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, said as inhabitants “we have to except the limitations of our planet”.
Talking about sustainability, she urged all stakeholders in the room to take a seat at the table and co-create a solution for “your fantastic product”.
She recognized similarities with the cocoa belt along the equator and the planet, the issues in the region were like a microcosm of what is happening on a global level. Farmers can’t expand beyond their region and humans cannot expand beyond the planet. Her message was stark, we are stuck with what we’ve got, so we better look after our environment.
“Sustainability is neither a burden nor a duty, but the one and only way to be top of the line on consumer trends,” she told delegates.