Sustainable chocolate is a significant opportunity to improve the environment and the lives of farmers in Southeast Asia. Consumers clearly want the industry to act. From child labor to deforestation, the public has a wide range of serious concerns about how chocolate is made. Brands that act on those concerns by sourcing traceable and sustainable chocolate will benefit people, the planet and their sales figures.
Most of the research into consumer attitudes to sustainable chocolate focuses on Western markets but is relevant to Asia. A 2018 survey of people in high-income countries, three quarters of whom were from Europe, found that 79% of people are aware of sustainability issues in cocoa supply, citing low income, environmental degradation and child labor as their main concerns.1 Almost 75% of people said they try to buy sustainable chocolate, typically by seeking out products that carry certifications on their labels.
Another survey of 7,000 consumers across 10 European countries delivered similar results. That survey, which was run in 2020, found sustainability factors into the food and beverage buying decisions of 70% of consumers.2 Frequent buyers of chocolate are particularly likely to prioritize sustainability, with almost 75% of people in that subgroup of consumers expressing a preference for sustainable products. Similar to the earlier survey, child labor, famer income and deforestation were the top concerns.
Why sustainability matters in Southeast Asia
There are reasons to think sustainable chocolate is similarly important to consumers in Southeast Asia. Notably, general surveys of attitudes to sustainability in Southeast Asia, as well as analyses focused on other industries, show the topic is front of mind for many consumers when they are making purchasing decisions.
One survey found consumers in Indonesia are more concerned about packaging sustainability than their counterparts in the US and Western Europe.3 The concern is affecting buying decisions, with people in Indonesia expressing a greater willingness to pay more for food that comes in sustainable packaging.
Sustainability concerns cut across age groups in Indonesia, with the proportion of people who are very or extremely concerned about deforestation ranging from 83% among Boomers to 90% in Generation X. Indonesian consumers of all ages are also concerned about several other sustainability issues related to the chocolate supply, such as climate change, the depletion of natural resources and waste production.
Other studies suggest the focus on sustainability in Indonesia is echoed in other parts of Southeast Asia. One survey found concern about climate change is high across the region, with 70% of respondents in Southeast Asia calling it a serious and immediate threat.4 Another study found almost everyone polled in Southeast Asia is concerned, often very concerned, about environmental and worker rights issues in the fashion industry.5 Almost two-thirds of people research clothing sustainability before buying products.
The Western data suggests consumers in Southeast Asia are likely to be similarly concerned about the sustainability of the chocolate they buy. That is an opportunity for the chocolate industry. By creating and marketing products with unimpeachable sustainability credentials, chocolate brands can access a large, growing consumer group that is willing to pay a premium for confectionery that aligns with their values. The question is how to create chocolate with such unimpeachable sustainability credentials.
How to deliver sustainable chocolate
The question of how to make truly sustainable, ethical chocolate is particularly vexing for multinational companies that manufacture large quantities of products. These big companies need partners that have both the scale to meet their demands and the granular insights into their supply chains that are needed to ensure sustainability.
Few organizations can address both needs. Many cocoa supply chains are largely made up of smallholder farmers. Such fragmented landscapes mean chocolate manufacturers need to make a concerted effort to trace all their beans, working closely with large numbers of farmers to ensure the supply chain is positive for the environment and local communities.
Farmers see the value of environmental initiatives. In Indonesia, where 95% of the cocoa is produced by farms of no more than 2 hectares, farmers are contending with factors such as climate change and pest outbreaks that threaten crop productivity and bean quality.6
Indonesia-based chocolate manufacturer Freyabadi Indotama is helping ensure a traceable, sustainable supply of chocolate for its multinational customers. By working closely with suppliers who are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, Freyabadi Indotama can trace its cocoa beans along the length of the supply chain, down to the certified farmers who grow the cocoa tree. The result is certified products that give consumers confidence that their purchases are positive for the environment and farming communities.
The traceability initiatives are complemented by actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as the installation of a 1.1 MWp solar rooftop array that meets 13% of the facility’s energy requirements.7 The resulting reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is equivalent to removing 282 cars from the road.
Through the initiatives, Freyabadi Indotama is supporting the economic and environmental sustainability of chocolate production and positioning its customers to meet consumer demands for products that are good for people and the planet.
1. Chocolate Consumer Survey 2018.
2. Sustainability’s influence on chocolate purchase decisions continues to grow.
3. Feber, D., Granskog, A., Lingqvist, O. & Nordigården, D. Sustainability in packaging: Consumer views in emerging Asia. (2021).
4. Jack Board. Survey reveals Southeast Asians’ concerns about lack of regional climate change action. CNA.
5. South East Asia fashion sustainability report 2021. Issuu (2021).
6. Nerger, M. Project profile: Transforming the cocoa sector in Indonesia through value addition for smallholders (TRACTIONS). Rainforest Alliance (2021).
7. TotalEnergies to Deliver a 1.1 MWp Solar Rooftop Installation for Freyabadi Indotama, the Largest Chocolate Manufacturer in Indonesia. IQI Global (2021).