Cocoa prices hit record highs ahead of Easter holiday

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Chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs will likely come at a higher cost for consumers this year as the price of cocoa climbs to record highs.

Cocoa futures have surged this year, roughly doubling since the start of 2024. Rising temperatures and weather conditions have stressed and damaged crops in West Africa, which produces more than 70% of the global cocoa supply.

Sugar prices are also rising. Futures for a pound of sugar are up about 8% in 2024, after rising 2.7% in 2023.

"The magnitude and pace of recent price increases seem to be unprecedented," wrote Citi analyst Thomas Palmer back in February when cocoa futures hit an all-time high of $5,874 per metric ton.

Big chocolate companies like Hershey's and Cadbury maker Mondelez have been passing those costs on to consumers — and then some: Hershey's net profit margins ticked higher to 16.7% in 2023 from 15.8% in 2022. Mondelez reported a jump to 13.8% in 2023 from 8.6% in 2022.

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Both companies reported shrinking sales volumes for their most recent quarters as consumers grow tired of paying higher food prices. 

Spending on chocolates is expected to drop this Easter, though the total figure so far remains high by historical standards, according to the National Retail Federation. Its latest survey shows that consumers are expected to spend $3.1 billion on candy for Easter this year, or $24.78 per person. That's down from $3.3 billion, or $26.31 per person a year ago.

Mondelez, which owns Easter basket staple Cadbury, has been relying on price increases to counter the surge in cocoa prices. The company has said it commands a 13% share in the global chocolate market. It acknowledged price increases of up to 15% within its chocolate category in 2023 and higher prices will likely be a key factor in meeting revenue growth forecasts for up to 5% in 2024.

"Pricing is clearly a key component of this plan," said Luca Zaramella, chief financial officer at Mondelez, in an conference call in January. "Its contribution will be a little bit less than we have seen in 2023, but it is higher than an average year."

Hershey could raise prices again

Hershey raised prices on chocolate overall last year as inflation surged and said it increased prices on some grocery and food service items early in 2024. It expects sales growth of up to 3% this year.

The company has said it is committed to raising prices in order to cover inflation, though most of it is carryover from previous increases.

The cost of candy and other sweets rose 5.8% in February compared with a year ago, according to the government's latest report on consumer prices. Increases have been hovering around that level since late into 2023.

While inflation has been cooling overall, food prices have remained stubbornly high. U.S. consumers spent more than 11% of their disposable income on food in 2022, the highest percentage since 1991, according to the latest data from the USDA. 

  • Inflation