Japan's latest Valentine's Day craze could be 'volcanic' chocolate

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You would be hard pressed to find a country that takes Valentine’s Day more seriously than Japan.

Key points:

  • Chocolate companies in Japan sell limited edition flavours for Valentine’s Day
  • Cocoa from volcanic islands in the Pacific are being used this year
  • A PNG plantation owner hopes “volcanic” chocolate catches on

Estimates of how much the country spends on chocolate for the occasion run anywhere from $US500 million ($701 million) to over $1 billion dollars each year, with chocolatiers releasing exclusive editions and limited edition flavours in the lead-up to February.

But cocoa growers on three volcano islands across Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Philippines seem set to reap the benefits of Japan’s chocolate obsession this year, with Nestle Japan using their crops for a special series of “volcanic” Kit Kat bars.

Cedric Lacroix from Nestle Japan’s confectionary arm said the idea to use cocoa grown on volcanic islands came about as they were looking to different parts of world to find cocoa.

“We came about these particular islands where cocoa trees are growing on volcanic soil which gives them fantastic taste, first and foremost and also a nice story to consumers,” he said.

Barbara Goodyear, the owner of one of the volcanic cocoa plantations on PNG’s Karkar Island, said the sudden interest in her crop couldn’t have come at a better time.

The last few years have been tough for farmers on the island because of a tiny menace called the cocoa pod borer — a moth that lays its eggs on the cocoa pod, with the larvae then tunnelling inside, eventually destroying the beans.

“It’s actually still on the island, it still affects us a lot,” Ms Goodyear said.

She estimated her plantation lost between 50 and 60 per cent of last year’s harvest to the borer, but there is hope supplying cocoa for the volcanic chocolates will help to turn things around.

“If we can sell more to them for a really good price then we can actually give the money back to our harvesters, or to the communities around us with schools or health services,” Ms Goodyear said.

Nestle has previously come under fire from environmental groups for its use of palm oil — last year it was suspended from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for breaching the group’s code of conduct.

But Mr Lacroix said the company aims to ethically source its cocoa for Kit Kat chocolate bars.

“Kit Kat was and is actually still the only global brand, and definitely was the first global brand, going for fully traceable and ethical cocoa under what we call the Nestle cocoa plan, and this Nestle volcanic chocolate goes along these lines,” he said.

“We make sure that we pay at the right premium and that we enter into, let’s say, a fair and long-standing relationship with the farmer we buy it from.”