May 9/Chicago/Crain's -- Blommer Chocolate Co. said it will invest $45 million to support cocoa sustainability efforts by 2020 under a new program it calls Sustainable Origins.

As part of the initiative, the family-owned company based in Chicago expects to double its base of 50,000 cocoa farmers that participate in the company's programs to produce sustainable and traceable cocoa.

Known by most Chicagoans for the chocolate scent that wafts through the city, the private company is little known outside of its customer base of the world's biggest confectionery, baking and dairy companies. Blommer opened its factory at 600 W. Kinzie St. to media for the first time to make the announcement.

Blommer, pronounced “Blummer,” is among the largest processors of cocoa beans and the largest chocolate ingredient suppliers in North America. With cocoa demand expected to outrun supply by more than 1 million metric tons -- or 25% of the current supply by 2020 -- the company says it has a vested interest in protecting its supply.

“Sustainability has to plug into an economic model,” Peter Blommer, the third-generation president and chief operating officer, told reporters. “Let's pay a premium to the farmers so we can continue to reward them for the value we are getting. To me, that's sustainability.”

The company has already invested more than $13 million in training, social programs and price premiums to farmers for cocoa that meets its standards in West Africa, Indonesia and the Americas, which grow two-thirds of the world's cocoa. Those existing efforts will become part of the Sustainable Origins program.

Blommer's program is based on the Farmer Field School model that trains farmers in pre- and post-harvest practices to boost quality and yields. Farmers that participate can boost their yields by more than 30% and their income by at least 10%, Kip Walk, Blommer's corporate director for cocoa and sustainability, told reporters. He said that just 7% of the world's crop is certified sustainable, while Blommer's products are 10% certified sustainable.

 From the May 10, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News