Cocoa was once a major minor-bulk commodity. Now it is largely a container business. Are there any prospects for a reverse of this trend?
Like many other commodities, cocoa is now shipped by and large in containers. Breakbulk accounts for only 7% of the 4.5 million tons of cocoa beans transported annually and bulk – “megabulk” in the industry parlance – another 5%, according to statistics provided by Philip Sigley, the chief executive of the London-based industry group Federation of Cocoa Commerce, or FCC.
However, the story of how breakbulk has largely lost out in the cocoa trade is quite unique. It’s a tale of a highly valued, but relatively small niche crop that is caught up in much larger issues of global shipping and trade.
All things being equal, breakbulk works best for shipping cocoa beans. That has to do in large part with exacting standards for moisture content. Moisture of less than 6% makes the beans too brittle, while more than 7.5% greatly increases chances of spoilage. Moisture exceeding 8% is considered grounds for rejecting the shipment.
As the Cocoa Merchants Association of America wrote in its shipping guidelines in late 2015, “cocoa beans characteristically have a propensity to develop condensation and to re-absorb moisture, and to become easily infested while in transit. Experience has shown that the breakbulk method of ocean transport of cocoa beans responds best to this hygroscopic feature of cocoa.”
As a result, the association’s standard shipping contracts until a few years back actually prohibited shipping cocoa beans in containers without explicit permission by the buyer…
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