The Hershey Hotel’s Fountain Lobby had an unmistakeable aura of chocolate elegance on October 20; its Moorish-style entryway busy with guests meandering their way through crowded cocktail stations, wandering waiters  and five exhibit stands showcasing unbelievably beautiful chocolate creations.

The Hershey Hotel’s Fountain Lobby had an unmistakable aura of chocolate elegance on October 20; its Moorish-style entryway busy with guests meandering their way through crowded cocktail stations, wandering waiters  and five exhibit stands showcasing unbelievably beautiful chocolate creations.

Of course, when an association such as the PMCA has served its industry for 100 years, one can expect organizers to pull out all the stops for such a final gala event.

With more than 160 representatives from every aspect of the industry in attendance, the PMCA Centennial Gala lived up to its billing, combining chocolate artistry with camaradie, acknowledgements with an author’s signing, and haute cuisine with a bit of high-stepping.

The chocolate masterpieces, sponsored by Tomric Systems, Porcupine Product, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate and The Hershey Co./Joseph Schmidt Confections, reminded guests attending PMCA’s Centennial Gala that this industry can achieve artistry while simultaneously satisfying everyone’s sweet tooth.

Recognizing that this occasion was ideally suited for feasting and fun, the program was deliberately kept brief as PMCA Chairman Peter Blommer, coo of the Blommer Chocolate Co., and PMCA president Adriam Timms, senior research scientist, the Hershey Co., welcomed guests and acknowledged volunteers who helped make the event possible.

The brief Centennial Gala program hit another high note when author Beth Kimmerle unveiled the publication of the PMCA’s commemorative book, Sweet Times: 100 Years of Making Confectioners Better, while Timms presented industry PMCA Centennial sponsors with a special glass sculpture in appreciation of their financial support.

A silent auction of the chocolate masterpieces – funds earmarked for Ronald McDonald House in Hershey, Pa. – ensured the edible object d’arts benefited those in need. As Kimmerle autographed “fresh off the press” copies of the association’s Sweet Times, the Colgan Hirsch Band entertained gala goers with a medley of danceable tunes. Last dance came too quickly for some, as the centennial celebration slipped away into the night, attendees hoping that such a get-together need not wait another 100 years.

At its 7th annual commodities seminar held in downtown Chicago, Blommer Chocolate Co. informed clients what they can expect in the coming months from the volatile cocoa, dairy and sugar markets.

Chief Operating Officer Peter Blommer opened the seminar, held October 17th, with a company update. Blommer, which Peter dubbed as the “most dynamic cocoa processor and supplier in North America,” averaged 10% annual growth for the past decade, he said.

“Our growth is a reflection of [our clients’] growth,” Peter emphasized. “It’s a very exciting time, and we see many opportunities to come.”

Peter noted the company’s expansion and reinvestment efforts, citing $300 million worth of capital expenditures in North American capabilities.

“Over 60% of cocoa powder consumed in the U.S. is imported, so we see a huge opportunity to expand there,” Peter said.

Peter also mentioned some new Blommer innovations, such as a protein-enhanced compound coating set to arrive in the coming months.

Sheila Fortune of Blommer’s commodity department presented a technical analysis of the cocoa market through chart overviews, technical approaches and defining terminology.

Technical analysis, which Fortune said is a method of evaluating securities, is useful in timing price points and can validate fundamental information from a trading perspective.

Lee McConnell, Blommer’s v.p. of commodities, presented a cocoa market update and mentioned that poor weather conditions contributed to the deficit of 2006-2007.

The dramatic price response was caused by speculative influence, the weakness of the dollar (which will mitigate the surplus forecast for the upcoming year) and continued publicity over chocolate’s health benefits.

McConnell also added that while dark and single-origin chocolate has moderated at the retail level in the U.S., he doesn’t see dark chocolate fading away anytime soon.

Price increases at retail also look likely, namely because of increased prices of cost components. U.S. cocoa butter prices are at 20-year highs, but cake and natural powder and sugar prices are cheap compared to beans and cocoa butter.

On the sugar side, Jeff Rasinski, formerly with Nestlé Dreyers and M&M Mars, explained that while Hurricane Katrina made it a seller’s market for sugar in 2005-2006, the market is now shifting back to buyers.

“The market was largely in balance this year, but scales are tipping to oversupply,” he said.

On the dairy end, Rasinski noted excessive heat in 2006, huge export demand combined with the weakness of the dollar, Australian drought and increased interest in organic as reasons for this past year’s dairy crisis.

“Take your grandparents’ dairy market and throw it out the door,” said Rasinski.

While Rasinski said it may take years for Australia to recover from drought, the U.S. dairy market is on the upswing. Domestically supply is growing and demand is slow due to high prices.

Also, dairy cow numbers have stabilized and are currently 72,000 above last year’s count. If cow numbers sustain, 2008 should see an abundant milk supply, Rasinski said.

On the sustainability front, Kip Walk presented Blommer’s efforts to enrich the lives of cocoa farmers and secure the future of the industry through cocoa alliances.

Walk, who will take over as chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation in January 2008, said that disease, pests and lack of market knowledge is responsible for diminishing cocoa returns.

“Blommer has been actively working to establish a connection with the farmer,” said Kip Walk.

One of Blommer’s efforts is through financing Amazon solar dryers for regional farmers. The dryers are an economical way to protect sun-dried beans from rain.

“The farmer has better time management, he’s able to manage the farm better and most importantly, it gives him more time with his family,” Walk said.

The all-weather dryers have prompted a 30-40% increase in income. To date, Blommer has helped build 225 dryers.

Additionally, Blommer’s participation with the Cocoa Farmer Field School Program (SAFOB) and CIFOB has allowed it to reach nearly 100,000 farmers and their families. Walk expects that the organizations will reach another 120,000 by 2010, which represents over $100 million in commercial contracts.