We rarely think about what happens to cocoa once it arrives at the processing plant. How companies turn cocoa beans into a bar that goes onto the supermarket shelves is a complex process involving many moving parts and an intricate logistics chain.
Logistics isn’t sexy, but it requires millions of euros/dollars of investment each year, and sometimes even small changes can have a significant impact, both on the companies bottom line, and on the environment.
Consider the problem of moving chocolate. When we talk about transporting chocolate, most of us think about stacks of bars on palettes, but large quantities of semi-finished product are transported between processors and producers.
Semi-finished often means in liquid form, in which thousands of litres of chocolate is pumped into acid-proof stainless steel tankers and driven over sometimes distances of thousands of kilometres.
This presents all kinds of technical, logistical and health considerations to overcome. You may be familiar with the challenges of temperature stability when making chocolate in your kitchen, but imagine scaling that into 25-33 thousand litres and then having to transport it safely 2,500km!
During this time, the chocolate must be kept at between 48 and 60 degrees Celcius. If the temperature goes too high, the chocolate can get burned too low, and it might start to solidify.
Sticking with the kitchen metaphor, that fun part where you scrape the chocolate off the bowl and lick the spoon is not so easy when the chocolate is inside of a tanker that might have retained as much as 250kg of chocolate stuck inside that will need to be cleaned later.
Considering what has gone into growing and transporting those cocoa beans across the world to be processed into liquid chocolate, the thought of them being discarded because they cannot be easily removed feels incredibly wasteful.
Add to this the additional weight to the tanker on the empty return journey, and you can then factor in the unnecessary additional cost of fuel.
Once the tanker reaches the base, it must be cleaned to a high specification for health and safety reasons. In fact, a driver must present a certificate that the cleaning has been done to the correct standard before a new load can be pumped in.
A large volume of water must be used for this process, so add that to the environmental footprint.
As a rule, transport companies will carry out several checks, including checking the hatches on top of the tanker and at the back. They will check for bacteria using swabs, and the driver must make their own visual checks too.
We have only scratched the surface of challenges in the transportation of chocolate.
A number of companies offer services to help navigate this specialist and technically difficult process. Alternatively, one company that claims to be offering a more ecologically sustainable way of transportation, as well as saving money, is Mega-Inliner. As the name suggests, this company produces a food-grade plastic liner for each journey.
While it doesn’t sound immediately comforting that they use plastic, the company says their plastic can be fully recycled. Drivers using their system can quickly remove the plastic leaving the tanker interior clean and able to be reused for a return journey. Mega-Inliner has estimated that as a result, transport companies can make an estimated 30% reduction in C02 emissions (based on EU data).
Add in another saving of 2,500 litres of water that would be used for cleaning each time, and of course all the associated costs of the chocolate that is no longer wasted.
We spend so much time examining the sustainability credentials of supply chains to the processing companies, but perhaps less once it has reached that destination. It’s interesting to see companies with innovative solutions that seem to solve a commercial problem that is also good for the environment.
Mega-Inliner provided the images and some of the information for this article but are not sponsors, nor have they seen this article before it was published.