Updated on June 19, 2019

In any detailed conversation about sustainable sourcing of cocoa, it won’t be long before someone uses the term ‘mass balance’. But what is mass balance, exactly? Maybe you have a rough idea but you’d struggle to explain it to someone else. Or maybe you’ve never even heard of it. Either way, here are five things you need to know.

1. Mass balance is a system for sourcing sustainable ingredients

Many chocolate companies source their cocoa using a system called ‘mass balance’. This means that if they buy half of their cocoa as UTZ certified, they can put the UTZ (or Rainforest Alliance) label on half of their end products – even though these might not physically contain the certified cocoa.  This video explains with an example (also available in other languages ):

2. This system is used because the cocoa supply chain is complex

Cocoa is shipped and processed in large quantities, which means it is usually very costly to keep certified cocoa separate from non-certified cocoa.

Through the use of our sophisticated traceability systems you can be sure the certified cocoa that enters the supply chain does come from certified farms, even though it gets mixed with non-certified cocoa later on.

3. Where the cocoa ends up doesn’t make any difference to the farmer

For farmers, what’s important is that they sold their cocoa as certified. It doesn’t matter to them whether the cocoa ends up in one chocolate bar or another.  What matters is that being part of the certification program brings higher productivity, bigger incomes and better living conditions.

4. Mass balance means more farmers can benefit from certification

Mass balance makes it more feasible for companies to source sustainable ingredients. If all companies had to keep their certified cocoa separate from their non-certified cocoa, often they would decide that it was too challenging, and make the decision not to purchase any certified cocoa at all.

Mass balance encourages companies to make the transition towards buying sustainable cocoa, which in turn means more farmers see the benefits.

5. Mass balance is a great way to scale up sustainability

Mass balance is also used for many other products, including sugar, palm oil, and fruit juice, and in all of these sectors it has really helped with scaling up the market for sustainability.

That’s definitely been the case in our cocoa program. The UTZ program was launched in 2009, and is now the biggest program in the world for sustainable cocoa. In fact, more than 800.000 cocoa farmers and workers are now (2018) in the UTZ program. We want to make sustainability the norm, and mass balance has an important role to play in helping us reach that goal.

Looking for more?

For the basics of mass balance, ready-to-use communication materials and guidance on how to make credible claims, we have great content and tools to help you understand and explain mass balance. Check our mass balance member pack.

Infographic illustrating the mass balance concept

Want to source sustainable cocoa? Join us! In January 2018, UTZ merged with the Rainforest Alliance. Read all about it here.