Mars has announced that all its cocoa will be "sustainably sourced" by 2020. Mars is working with the Rainforest Alliance to certify at least some of this cocoa. The first product to bear the Rainforest Alliance mark will be Galaxy Chocolate in the UK and Ireland, beginning in 2010. The company will also go on working with UTZ Certified, which is currently preparing to launch its cocoa certification scheme, focusing initially on Cote d'Ivoire.
Like Cadbury's recent announcement that Dairy Milk would be Fairtrade certified by the end of 2009, the news needs to be put in the context of broadly declining and unstable global cocoa supplies. As Fiona Dawson, managing director of Mars UK, told the Financial Times last week: “Cocoa is a volatile commodity. We want to secure our long-term sourcing.”
Mars committed last year to putting $10m into sequencing the cocoa genome, a project that is expected to be completed in 2013. This offers a high tech route to boosting production as it will enable scientists to breed strains of cocoa that are more resistant to the crippling fungal diseases that can ravage the crop, particularly when it is grown more densely as a monoculture rather than mixed with other trees that give them protective shade.
It remains to be seen whether Mars' investment in environmental standards, as opposed to the Fairtrade Mark's focus on farmer empowerment, will secure its supply chain in the long term.