Spotlight on cocoa Asia - podcast

CAA chairman Alvin Lee talks challenges and trends affecting the Asian cocoa industry

By Anthony Myers contact

- Last updated on GMT

Alvin Lee. Pic: Cargill
Alvin Lee. Pic: Cargill

Related tags: Cocoa association of asia

Alvin Lee was appointed chairman of the Cocoa Association of Asia (CAA) at the beginning of 2021 for a two-year term. He is also Cargill’s Cocoa & Chocolate’s Commercial Director for Asia-Pacific, and in our podcast interview, he gives listeners a 360-degree view of the region in terms of trends, the market, challenges, and countries to watch.

In a further boost to the Asia-Pacific region, Cargill recently opened a new chocolate factory in Singapore, its first foray into the chocolate space and Lee describes it as a great first step for the company as up until now it had only been involved in the cocoa space.

We're quite proud of some of the progress made so far

Lee said his role as chairman of CAA will primarily be focussed on continuing its modernizing agenda, making it more relevant to members and more inclusive with an equal representation at executive level of processors, candy manufacturers and trade houses.

He said: “We're quite proud of some of the progress made so far. One of the more important things that we've done is we've taken a leaf out of our sibling, organisations in Europe, for example, and started what we call professional subcommittees – so we now have directors for sustainability, directors for trade policy and a director for food safety and regulatory issues.

“We also have a director for education issues. The point of all these subcommittees is that we've basically asked members to contribute real experts from within their ranks.”

The CAA has also launched a bean benchmark to help its members and any interested stakeholders monitor material prices and help with transparency, risk evaluation and management through the sharing of data.

Lee said that unlike Europe or North America, the Asia-Pacific region is very disparate and disconnected and doesn’t have the luxury a common economic.

In the Asia-Pacific region in terms of volume we have actually sadly, fallen of the world map quite a fair bit​,” said Lee.

We used to have two very significant producers in Malaysia and Indonesia, who between the two of them produced easily seven to eight hundred thousand metric tons a year. I think all that is left right now is that Malaysia has become, but a footnote with much of the cocoa growing replaced by palm and Indonesia has gone from maybe six to seven hundred thousand and its peak to closer to 200,000 tonnes a year​.”

Lee said there are lots of reasons for the downturn, which needs a more in-depth conversation in the future but he said one bright spot is Philippines’ cocoa production.

“It is up-and-coming, the growth numbers seem to be increasing every year. I think what is also much more encouraging is, as you know, cocoa is a tree crop and it does take time  for trees, depending on a hybrid,  to grow, - anywhere between two years to five years....

“So it will be curious to see how the Philippines comes along, we understand that there has been thousands of hectares that have new growth and plantings that will come online over the next few years, so that could be a bright spot in terms of production.”

Lee also gives listeners an update on the CAA’s Cocoa Conference that was to be held next month in Singapore but had to be postponed several times because of the global pandemic.

It will now be held on 22 September 2022 in Singapore, but he says it will be a great release for the industry to finally reconvene ahead of another crucial crop year when the main season gets under way in October.

  • More details about the CAA conference will be released in the coming months.
  • Listen to more of our interview with Alvin Lee in our extended podcast version.

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1 comment

Chocolate flavor is also a footnote

Posted by Douglas Furtek,

For the most part, the world chocolate industry wants inexpensive ordinary beans with no flavor, fungal, or physical defects. That's why they want farmers to grow high-yielding and disease-resistant trees and to follow good fermentation practices. That is fine, but flavor becomes a footnote.

Just about all countries that have cocoa breeding programs have exceptional clones with high cocoa flavor and with unique aroma notes. Trinidad and Tobago, with its hundreds of years experience with cocoa, especially comes to mind. And Malaysia, another center for flavor studies, still maintains theses unique clones and is eager to revitalize cocoa growing.

To keep their industry thriving, specialty chocolate manufacturers should consider contract growing specific clones for their own needs.

And I believe consumers would be delighted and excited to try chocolates unlike anything they have ever tasted before.

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