Making chocolate with blockchain

A deep dive into the role global trade plays in bringing multiple geographies together for a single slab of chocolate.

Chocolate is one of the most popular and widely consumed products in the world, and it often comes as a surprise that the practice of turning cocoa beans into the chocolate bars that fill our shelves today is only 200 years old.

When we pick up a simple bar, few of us give a second thought to how a two-by-five-inch snack begins life as a list of ingredients that make an incredible journey across the globe. Just like many other manufacturing industries, creating chocolate products involves a complex chain of production that has many links, combines multiple geographies, and needs careful management. 

Charting the journey

Beginning in Ghana, cocoa beans are harvested from the yellow fruit of the cacao tree, fermented for seven days, and then dried in the sun. They are then ground and roasted into chocolate liquor and placed into drums. In Glasgow, milk will also be filled into drums, stacked onto pallets weighing one metric ton, and loaded – 20 pallets at a time – into 40-foot refrigerated cargo containers to keep it fresh on its journey. From their native ports, these containers will make their way on incredible 1,000-foot ships to another nation, ready for manufacture. Once they have arrived, the containers will be unloaded and delivered alongside the sugar, nuts, fruits, and flavorings that will have arrived in a similar fashion and likely already gone through similar processes of refinement in their native geographies.

But, as anyone who works with just-in-time manufacturing understands, something can always go wrong. The plethora of exchanges across the supply chain is a complex network of operations that must work seamlessly for successful manufacture and distribution. 

Just because something could go wrong, doesn’t mean it should

Our recent launch of the Digital Freight Alliance gives freight forwarders and businesses access to a new suite of integrated tools, routes, and services enabling them to move cargo across sea, land, and air all on one platform. It means that cargo owners are always able to find the best way to get their goods to where they need to be, in whichever way gets it there in time for production. This means that if, for example, the printing press for chocolate wrappers breaks down in Warsaw, it would be easier than ever to find an expedited route for delivery once the machine is fixed, meaning minimal impact on the timeline of production.

The next step, once the wrappers do arrive, is the preparation of ingredients. A facility of 100+ highly-specialised professionals will go about making your chocolate bar, and millions more. Once complete, those bars will be put on pallets and loaded onto trucks ready for distribution facilities across the continent and beyond. As an order from a local supermarket comes in from a regional distribution centre, a warehouse attendant will take cases off the top and load them onto another truck for final delivery. Each case is brought to a checkout aisle, where one bar finds its way to your hand. 

The power of blockchain

There is no getting away from the fact that supply chains are complex. However, managing them doesn’t need to be. This is why we have advanced worldwide digital platforms throughout the supply chain to move global trade online. DP World recently joined TradeLens, a blockchain-powered platform developed by Maersk and IBM. The power of TradeLens is in its collective intelligence: it is built to optimise trade flows using a wealth of data from across the global supply chain ecosystem. This means that a chocolate bar manufacturer, for example, can see the status of each truck, pallet, case or container in an easy-to-use, single pane of glass interface and make operational decisions based on that information.

In practice, this means greater visibility, traceability, and transparency. In logistics, leveraging physical infrastructures with digital capability can yield powerful results, allowing BCOs to move their cargo quickly, safely, and efficiently. Integration with this platform will give greater visibility of container flows across multiple carriers and enable cargo owners to reduce time-consuming manual processes with efficient, data-driven solutions.

The global chocolate industry is worth $100bn and it is expected that this will continue to grow. With businesses ranging from community-based chocolatiers to large corporations, chocolate farming, production, and distribution establishment is varied and complex. To meet this increasing global demand, this supply chain needs to run smoothly, be well-coordinated, and allow for flexibility. At DP World, we are proud to be part of helping chocolate-makers across the world realise more value than ever, because when life happens, chocolate helps.