The best positioned among them got through 2023 without too much trouble. The proof is in Hershey, which yesterday published annual financial results not exactly tinged with panic: 7% organic growth, 14% rise in earnings per share.

It's not so good when you read between the lines. Cash profit - or "free cash flow" - is declining: it will reach $1.3 billion in 2023, compared with $1.5 billion the previous year; because inflation is affecting not only cocoa, but also capital expenditure on production facilities.

Moreover, while the Group intends to rely on its pricing power to absorb increases in taming costs, it warns that 2024 will be a difficult year.

The main problem is the catastrophic harvest in Ivory Coast, which produces over a third of the world's cocoa consumption. All over the world, stocks are empty and the deficit between supply and demand has reached its most acute level in sixty-five years.

As a result, the price of cocoa is on a parabolic trajectory, akin to semi-conductors and artificial intelligence.

These developments in no way detract from the intrinsic quality of Hershey's business. In fifteen years, the confectioner has quadrupled its dividend payout per share. Dividends reinvested, $100,000 invested in the company in January 2008 now pay $20,000 annually, in addition to a very satisfactory capital appreciation.

To balance this summary, it should be noted that the Group's profitability, while still stratospheric, has tended to decline in recent years. It is also regrettable that share buyback volumes are declining at a time of falling valuations.

In terms of valuation, there has been no significant change since our last article on the subject.