Local chocolate products rising in popularity within Thailand

BANGKOK, 23 Feb 2023:

In the last 20 years, cocoa production in Thailand went from more than 1,000kg to 97 tonnes per year due to competition in the region, among other reasons. Now, the country is betting on its “artisanal fever” to train farmers and raise the quality of local chocolate.

Although cocoa farming remains a sideline and chocolate is a relatively new thing in Thailand, the popularity of the product is on the rise and is gaining more and more space in the gastronomic habits of Thai people.

In line with the fever for artisanal foods, what used to be a large-scale production gives way to small local producers committed to raising the quality of Thai chocolate by training farmers and monitoring each stage of its complex manufacture to reach “the highest levels.”

“The mass production, big production, they don’t concern much about the quality of the beans or the flavour, the aroma, so it’s very standard (sic.) If you buy that brand of chocolate, anywhere in the world you will get just the same (sic,)” said Nuttaya Junhasavasdikul, founder of the Kad Kokoa chocolate shop, in an interview.

“But for us, who does craft chocolate, it’s a very tiny production, we concern about the quality of the beans, we concern about the aroma, about the taste of the cacao beans and the whole process (sic),” she said.

In mid-November, Kad Kokoa joined experts from the Faculty of Agriculture of Chulalongkorn University to create the Sustainable Thai Cocoa Research and Development Innovation Center – whose mission is to revive the country’s chocolate reputation.

“This centre aims to help farmers in Thailand around the country to give the correct knowledge, the proper knowledge to do the fermentation, to uplift the standards of Thai cacao (sic),” said Nuttaya, adding that the entity plans to offer various activities such as workshops, regular meetings and other resources for producers.

The creation of the Institute accompanies the growing demand for chocolate among Thais, as well as the desire to reverse the vision that the product is still a “luxury item,” since most of the products that arrive are imported from Europe or Japan.

“Chocolate is quite expensive in a way, if you talk about chocolate, it’s quite expensive. For us, chocolate is a luxury good, a luxury food. So we now promote that we can make chocolate in Thailand (…) we just want Thai people to accept that we can produce local luxury,” she said.

Little by little, the consumption of chocolate in its purest form – with flavours and aromas that combine fruity nuances with the characteristic bitterness of cocoa – are conquering more and more Thais, who usually consume this delicacy in drinks or sweets.

“Thai people are not yet used to chocolate because for them chocolate is more either a drink or a snack like something like Snickers, which contains chocolate but are not really chocolate (sic),” said Leo Sebag, Kad Kokoa’s operations director.

According to data from the Statista platform, the country will consume more than 42 million kg of cocoa in 2022, a figure that should rise to almost 50 million kg by the end of 2025. However, most of that volume is still destined for beverages and other derived products, a reality local chocolatiers “look to change.”

“It’s a trend that people want to have something that they know about the origin and the steps behind the production, they want a good quality, they don’t want mass products anymore (sic),” Nuttaya said.

Thanks largely to mass tourism and the influence of Western visitors, locals are increasingly turning to the deli in its original, artisanal form, a watershed in the country’s consumption patterns.

The figures confirm the paradigm shift: four years ago, when it was just beginning its operations, Kad Kokoa – the pioneer in the production of chocolate grown exclusively in Thai territory – used to buy between 100kg and 200kg of cocoa per month from four farmers distributed around the country.

In 2022, this number more than quadrupled and currently the chocolate shop purchases close to a tonne of the grain each month.

Likewise, according to Statista, the cocoa market is expected to grow in volume by 8.9% in 2023, while revenue from the crop should rise from the US$630 million generated this year to US$820 million in 2025.

“So definitely we are in the beginning of a trend, we are in the beginning of a new way of consuming chocolate globally and we hope that in five to 10 years people will start to consumption chocolate here the same way we do in Europe (sic),” Sebag said.

– EFE