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Is Ebola Putting a Dent in Chocolate Sales?

Ebola may put a dent in the shipments of cocoa to manufacturers, causing a price hike, but some mid-market businesses are betting demand will remain strong.

How much would you pay for your next bite of chocolate? Some mid-market businesses are betting you’ll bite even if they bump the cost a buck or two.

We recently reported that the price of coffee shot up to a high not seen in more than two years. It appears that another habit-forming treat –chocolate– was rivaling the beans’ rising prices.

Cocoa futures jumped 22 percent earlier this year to $3,366 per metric ton. That’s the highest they’ve been since 2011, on the forecast that demand would outstrip availability, in part because the spread of Ebola would prevent shipments from Ivory Coast. The African nation is the world’s top producer and is bordered by Liberia and Guinea, two of the countries that continue to report new cases of the disease.

Undaunted by the cost of his most basic ingredient, New York City based chocolatier Jacques Torres is expecting to continue growing. Last year Torres gambled on building a factory that cost upwards of $3 million. He’s also got eight retail locations which Torres estimates will bring in more than $10 million in sales, beating his record year in 2013. Most items Torres flogs are already pricey. A dozen dark chocolates will set you back $19.20, a can of hot chocolate mix is $18, and a “Wicked” bar is $6. For comparison, the classic Hershey bar is less than a dollar at most retail checkouts.

Torres is likely keeping an eye on demand, which shows no signs of slowing. Though Europe is the world’s biggest consumer, North American demand beat market expectations this quarter. That can only rise as Halloween, prime time for purchasing sweet treats, is estimated to account for $2.2 billion in sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

But research from IBISWorld indicates that consumers are reaching for organic and dark varieties more often because of health concerns. These choices may also come as consumer confidence improves,  proving that plunking down a bit more discretionary income is worth it for a little indulgence.

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