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Mars ramps up investment in cocoa sustainability program

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With three of the largest chocolate companies in the world pledging to purchase all their cocoa from sustainable sources by 2020, New Jersey's Mars Inc. has ramped up its investment in its sustainability programs.

Barry Parkin, head of Mars' global chocolate procurement and sustainability, said the company's increase this past year, from $20 million of investment to $30 million of resources, is designed to provoke the rest of the top chocolate buyers to align with sustainability measures.

Parkin said Mars is ahead of its target of 20 percent sustainable cocoa by 2012, and the company already is contracting for next year's cocoa supply. Parkin said the 30 percent target for 2013 also is on track to be surpassed.

With cocoa demand expected to outstrip supply before the end of the decade, Mars has been leading the charge since 2009 in creating a better supply chain. The pre-competitive measures the company has taken, including mapping the cocoa genome and encouraging cocoa farmers to become certified as sustainable, are starting to gain traction within the industry. Last week, Hershey announced it, too, would move to 100 percent sustainable cocoa by 2020, following Mars and Ferrero, which has operations in the Somerset section of Franklin.

"We've done the analysis, and it requires several billion dollars to transform the cocoa sector," Parkin said. "We're trying to stimulate all others in the cocoa industry to follow suit and equally commit large amounts of resources to tackle a big issue. It's a big number for us, but in the context of the billions needed, there's still a lot to do."

Parkin said today's announcement may serve as a tipping point for the industry, as the focus shifts from getting hundreds of thousands of cocoa farmers certified to providing more in-depth training and supplies to those farmers. Mars uses cocoa certified by three different sustainability groups: Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International and UTZ Certified.

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