Des centaines de millions d'Asiatiques accros au chocolat menacent d'en faire un produit de luxe hors de prix

07/09/2014 09:14

- Saint Valentin à Tokyo -  Yoshikazu Tsuno

La forte croissance de l'économie chinoise a donné naissance à une classe moyenne d'environ 500 millions de personnes.

Ce chiffre augmente en outre chaque mois car de plus en plus de Chinois réussissent à sortir de la misère et à intégrer la classe moyenne.

Dans les années qui viennent, des centaines de millions de Chinois pourraient connaître la même évolution. Mais la Chine n'est pas un cas isolé.

Le nouveau Premier Ministre Narenda Modi veut que l'Inde suive l'exemple chinois et voie l'arrivée d'une classe moyenne florissante. De grandes réformes économiques sont en préparation et dans quelques années, le pouvoir d'achat des Indiens devrait avoir fortement augmenté.

Et il ne faut pas oublier que les Indiens sont des centaines de millions. Nous ne pouvons naturellement que nous réjouir que de plus en plus de gens en Asie sortent de la misère, mais pour nous Occidentaux, cela entraîne des effets secondaires  relativement gênants.

Les nouveaux membres de la classe moyenne aspirent évidemment à une vie et à une alimentation meilleures. La consommation de chocolat entre autres connaîtra dans les années à venir un essor important en Chine car tout comme nous, les Asiatiques en raffolent.

Les Chinois et Indiens accros au chocolat pourraient rendre cette douceur hors de prix car on s'attend à un boom gigantesque de la demande de ce produit.

L'Asie s'est emballée pour le goût du chocolat si bien que de plus en plus d'amateurs de cette friandise apparaissent. Des personnes qui pour ainsi dire sont devenus des accros du chocolat sont prêtes à payer cher pour en avoir. 

« Cependant, la consommation de chocolat en Inde et en Chine est encore loin de la consommation des Occidentaux », affirme  Denis Convert **, vice-président de Barry Callebaut Chocolate Asia Pacific.

Un Asiatique  mange en moyenne 200 grammes de chocolat par an et l'Européen  en moyenne de 6 à 8 kilos. En partant de l'idée d'une croissance de consommation de 10% par an, des entreprises comme Barry Callebaut ne peuvent que se frotter les mains.

Mais le consommateur européen risque littéralement de payer le prix de cet amour nouveau des Asiatiques pour le chocolat.

Si des centaines de millions d'Asiatiques se mettent à consommer plus de chocolat, le prix du cacao va inévitablement augmenter. Ainsi, endéans les dix ans, une barre de chocolat pourrait bien devenir un produit de luxe.

**  Chocoholics: Your fix in Asia could get pricier

  Asia's newly minted chocoholics are tempting sweets-makers seeking growth, but chocolatiers face fresh challenges ranging from different cultural tastes to the region driving cocoa prices to three-year highs. 

  "The chocolate consumption still is very low in Asia Pacific," Denis Convert, vice president for gourmet in Asia Pacific at Barry Callebaut, the world's largest chocolate maker, told CNBC last week. 

  "We are still at the beginning of the story. The average consumption is about 200 grams per capita in Asia Pacific when it is between 6-8 kilograms in Europe." But Asia's chocolate demand is growing about 10 percent a year, he said.

Globally, around $107.63 billion was spent on retail chocolate, with $13.06 billion of it in the Asia Pacific, according to data from Euromonitor.

Read More What soaring cocoa means for stocks, chocoholics

Courting that growth may be the main driver pushing cocoa prices  to three-year highs. "The demand has outstripped supply for the third consecutive season. This hasn't been seen for 47 years," Erkut Ozer, CEO of Global Trading Enterprises, told CNBC recently. "The real demand factor has come from Asia. We've seen double-digit growth in chocolate consumption and that's really been the driver."

A life-size elephant made of Massa Ticino sugarpaste, chocolate, meringue and pastries exhibite at the Fantasia by Escriba, which showcased larger-than-life confections in a three-day show in Singapore.
Roslan Rahman ' AFP ' Getty Images

A life-size elephant made of Massa Ticino sugarpaste, chocolate, meringue and pastries exhibite at the Fantasia by Escriba, which showcased larger-than-life confections in a three-day show in Singapore.To counter the rising prices and still tap growing demand, Barry Callebaut is trying to boost its supply.

"We work closely with the farmers to develop sustainable farming in order to improve the yields every year," Convert said, adding he expects the shortage to be a long-term issue for the industry.

Read More Nutella prices could surge. Here's why Targeting farming methods isn't just about appearing environmentally friendly; it has a good chance of helping to boost supply. Ozer noted that much of the world's cocoa production is done on small family farms, with as much as 70 percent coming from Africa. 

"The farms are very small. So efficiency-wise, they aren't the great producing farms that we expect from our other soft products," Ozer said. "We are starting to see a real shift in investment in that sector."

The cocoa supply isn't the only challenge in getting Asia hooked on chocolate. Many in the region find chocolate too sweet or "heaty," a reference to traditional Chinese medicine's belief that such foods can cause physical symptoms, such as sore throats.  

Read More Mars, maker of M&M's, to raise prices 7%

For now, despite noting that some markets, such as Japan, actively seek less-sweet sweets, Barry Callebaut is primarily sticking with its global recipes, especially since much of the demand growth is in the premium segment, Convert said.


 "Most of the consumption today is going into European-style cakes, where people accept that and are really curious to try this kind of experience," he said. But for more day-to-day consumption, "it's still a barrier to overcome, especially when we talk about chocolate drinks for example, [such as] hot chocolate."

Read More Attention chocoholics: Hershey to hike prices 8%

Asia also presents another challenge for chocolatiers in the region: the weather. In places such as India where the infrastructure isn't as developed, the humidity can affect product quality, Convert said. 

Indeed, even in places with well-developed infrastructure, such as Singapore, the humidity can wreak havoc on sweets.  Organizers of "Fantasia by Escriba," a chocolate-themed event in the tropical city state created by world-renowned pastry chef Christian Escriba, noted that shipping the giant chocolate and confectionary animals from Barcelona was a challenge. 

Despite being shipped either by air or via climate-controlled containers, due to the humidity, several required extensive repair work once they arrived, Escriba said.

-By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter  @LeslieShaffer1