Entering the Dutch market for cocoa
Although the Dutch cocoa processing industry heavily relies on cocoa supplies from West Africa, the market attracts further interest in cocoa beans from Latin American countries. This is particularly so, given the growing market for organic and Fairtrade-certified cocoa beans, as well as a growing demand for high-quality cocoa. The focus on the high-quality segment offers an opportunity for closer relationships with buyers such as smaller specialised traders and speciality chocolate makers.
Contents of this page
1. What requirements and certification must cocoa comply with to be allowed on the Dutch market?
You can only export cocoa to the Netherlands if you comply with strict European Union requirements. For a complete overview of these standards, refer to our study on buyer requirements for cocoa or consult the specific requirements for cocoa on the European Commission’s Access2Markets website.
Buyer requirements can be divided into the following:
- Musts: legal and non-legal requirements you must meet to enter the market.
- Additional requirements: those you need to comply with to keep up with the market.
- Niche requirements: applying to specific niche markets.
The highlights for these requirements are given below, specified for the Dutch market when relevant.
1. Legal and non-legal requirements you must comply with
You must follow the European Union legal requirements for cocoa, mainly dealing with food safety and hygiene. Related to this are the legal limits for food contaminants, of which the most common are:
- Pesticides (consult the EU pesticide database for an overview of the maximum residue levels (MRLs) for each pesticide)
- Mycotoxins (ochratoxin A is of special relevance for cocoa)
- Polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
- Microbiological contamination such as salmonella (although cocoa is considered low-risk)
- Heavy metals such as cadmium (which is a particular problem for cocoa from some Latin American countries due to factors like volcanic activity and forest fires).
If you want to access the Dutch market for cocoa beans, you will have to meet your buyer’s quality standards. They are particularly high within the specialty segment for fine flavour cocoa beans.
Buyers in the Netherlands and elsewhere currently assess the quality and flavour of cocoa beans in different ways and often use a combination of two or more methodologies. The guide Cocoa Beans: Chocolate & Cocoa Industry Quality Requirements provides recommendations on cocoa growing, post-harvest practices and quality evaluation methods that contribute to cocoa quality.
Other common cocoa quality assessment methodologies and international cocoa standards commonly used by chocolate makers and cocoa traders include the following:
- ISO’s Standards on classification and sampling for cocoa beans.
- The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI): check their website and contact FCCI for their sampling protocol and grading form.
- Heirloom Cacao Preservation’s genetic evaluation of cocoa to identify and value cocoa and its flavour.
- Equal Exchange/TCHO’s quality assessment and tasting guide to assess the quality of cocoa along the value chain.
In addition, the Cocoa of Excellence Programme, which is coordinated by The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, has a working group that launched the International Standards for the Assessment of Cocoa Quality and Flavour website. Here you can download the protocols on the quality standards.
These protocols offer a step-by-step description of how to: 1) sample cocoa beans for evaluation; 2) assess their physical quality; 3) process them into coarse powder, liquor and chocolate; and 4) establish a sensory evaluation of the flavours expressed in these three products.
The information provided by labels must be easy to understand, easily visible, clearly readable, and should be written in a language easily understood by the purchaser, usually English.
The label should include the following topics to ensure traceability of individual batches:
- Product name
- Lot or batch code
- Country of origin
- Net weight in kilograms
In case your cocoa is organic and/or fair trade certified, the label should contain the name/code of the inspection body and certification number.
Figure 1: An example of cocoa bean labelling
Source: Chocolate Cortés
Cocoa beans are traditionally shipped in jute bags, which can weigh between 60 and 65 kilograms. On the mainstream market, bulk shipment of cocoa beans has become more popular. This means cocoa beans are loaded directly into the ship’s cargo hold or in shipping containers containing a flexi-bag (see Figure 2). This mega bulk method is often adopted by larger cocoa processors, which handle cocoa beans of standard qualities.
In the specialty cocoa segment, jute bags are still commonly used. For very high-quality micro lots, vacuum-sealed GrainPro packaging can be used.
Figure 2: Examples of packaging for cocoa: jute bag, container-sized flexi bag and GrainPro
Sources: Osu.edu, Bls.bulk.com and GrainPro
- Activate the “Translation” function of your browser to make the studies available in your native language.
- For the full buyer requirements, read the study on buyer requirements for cocoa in Europe.
- Check the website of EURO-Lex for more detailed information about the regulations concerning cocoa products.
- Read more about the quality requirements of the European industry for cocoa beans on the Cocoa Quality website.
- Learn more about maintaining the quality of your cocoa during transportation on the website of the Transportation Information Service.
- Read more about delivery and payment terms for your cocoa bean exports in our study Organising your cocoa bean exports to Europe.
2. Additional requirements to keep up with the market
Additional food safety requirements
You can expect buyers in the Netherlands to request extra food safety guarantees from you. Regarding production and handling processes you should consider the following:
- Implementation of good agricultural practices (GAPs): The main standard for good agricultural practices is provided by GLOBALG.A.P. This is a voluntary standard for the certification of agricultural production processes that provide safe and traceable products. Note that certification organisations (such as Rainforest Alliance/UTZ) often incorporate GAP in their standards.
- Implementation of a quality management system (QMS): A system based on Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) is often a minimum standard required at the level of storage and handling of cocoa beans. If you export semi-finished cocoa products, some buyers will also expect you to have certification, such as International Featured Standards: Food (IFS), Food Safety System Certification (FSSC 22000) or British Retail Consortium Global Standards (BRC) certificates for your manufacturing facilities.
It is good to take into account that your Dutch importer might re-export large quantities of cocoa beans to other destinations in Europe. These other buyers forward their requirements, which might increase the need for other specific certifications or standards. This will depend on the final market and the market channel.
Additional sustainability requirements
Corporate responsibility and sustainability have become very important in the entire European cocoa sector. The Dutch cocoa and chocolate industry set the goal to reach a 100% sustainable cocoa consumption by 2025. As a result, all leading companies on the Dutch chocolate market have sustainability policies highlighting their relationship with farmers, transparency in their operations, and their social and environmental impact at origin. Examples of these company policies or codes of conduct are those used by multinationals Nestlé and Mondelez.
As an exporter, adopting codes of conduct or sustainability policies related to your company’s environmental and social impacts may give you a competitive advantage. In general, it is likely that buyers will require you to comply with their code of conduct and/or fill out supplier questionnaires around your sustainability practices.
Certification standards are usually part of the sustainability strategy of traders, cocoa processors, chocolate manufacturers and retailers. As such, a standard like Rainforest Alliance/UTZ has become increasingly important in the mainstream cocoa market.
In addition, there are initiatives at the European level to develop legally binding measures for the use of sustainable cocoa. The due diligence laws to protect and restore global forests are expected to become effective in 2022. Once they are in force, buyers might forward some of the implications of the regulation onto cocoa suppliers and/or exporters. Also, Europe plans to boost sustainable cocoa production in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon. This initiative will provide training opportunities yet might also have specific implications for exporters from these countries.
- Refer to the International Trade Centre Standards Map or the Global Food Safety Initiative website to learn about the different food safety management systems, hygiene standards and certification schemes.
- Find out which standards or certifications are preferred by potential buyers in your target segment. Buyers may have preferences for a certain food safety management system or sustainability label, depending on their end clients and/or distribution channels.
- Carry out a self-assessment to measure how sustainable your production practices are. You can fill out this online self-assessment form by Amfori BSCI to assess your social performance. This Excel form by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform can be used to assess the sustainability performance of your farm.
- See our study on certified cocoa for more information about the demand for sustainable cacao on the European market, trends and specific trade channels.
3. Niche requirements
In order to market your cocoa as organic on the Dutch market, it must comply with the regulations of the European Union for organic production and labelling. Obtaining the EU Organic label is the minimum legislative requirement for marketing organic cocoa in the EU.
Note that the new EU organic regulation came into force on 1 January 2021. This means that producers in third countries will have to comply with the same set of rules as those producing in the EU. Also, inspections of organic production and organic products has become stricter to prevent fraud.
Before you can market your cocoa beans as organic, an accredited certifier must audit your growing and processing facilities. Refer to this list of recognised control bodies and control authorities issued by the EU to ensure that you always work with an accredited certifier. To become organic certified, you can expect a yearly inspection and audit which aims to ensure that you comply with the rules on organic production.
Note that all organic products imported into the EU must have the appropriate electronic Certificate of Inspection (COI). These COIs must be issued by control authorities prior to the departure of a shipment. If this is not done, your product cannot be sold as organic in the European Union and will be sold as a conventional product. COIs can be completed by using the European Commission’s electronic Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES).
A mandatory national organic label does not exist, but the Netherlands has one private organic label: EKO Quality Mark. This private label can be used alongside the EU organic label on final products if you fulfil the EKO Quality mark requirements.
The market for fair trade cocoa is growing in the Netherlands. The most common fair trade standard in the Netherlands is Fairtrade. The accredited certifier for Fairtrade is FLOCERT. Another, though less common, standard on the Dutch market is SPP (Small Producers’ Symbol).
- Learn more about organic farming and organic guidelines on the European Union website and the Organic Export Info website.
- Familiarise yourself with the range of organisations and initiatives that offer technical support to help you convert to organic farming. Start your search at the organic movement in your own country and ask if they have own support programs or know about existing initiatives. Refer to the database of affiliates of IFOAM Organics to search for organic organisations in your country.
- Find companies that specialise in organic products on the website of Organic-bio.
- Try to visit trade fairs for organic products, like Biofach in Germany. Check out their website for a list of exhibitors, seminars and other events at this trade fair.
- If you produce cocoa according to a Fairtrade scheme, find a specialised Dutch buyer who is familiar with sustainable and/or fair-trade products, for instance via the FLOCERT customer database. The Dutch website of Fairtrade also lists its Dutch partners.
- Try to combine audits, if you have more than one certification, to save time and money. Also investigate the possibilities for group certification with other producers and exporters in your region.
2. Through what channels can you get cocoa on the Dutch market?
1. How is the end market segmented?
The confectionery industry can be segmented according to the quality of the end products. For cocoa beans, the end products mainly consist of chocolate bars.
Figure 3: Segmentation of the chocolate market based on quality
In the Netherlands, supermarkets are the main sales channel for chocolate products. Supermarkets hold a market share of around 70% of total chocolate sales. Supermarkets have a wide variety of chocolate products, ranging from low-end to higher-end products. The largest supermarkets in the Netherlands are:
- Albert Heijn (parent: Ahold Delhaize, Netherlands/Belgium)
- Jumbo (owned by Van Eerd Group, Netherlands)
- Plus (part of Sperwer Group, Netherlands)
- Lidl (part of Schwarz Group, Germany)
- Aldi (part of Aldi Nord, Germany)
The market share of overall private labels in Dutch supermarkets reached a market share of nearly 37% in 2020. This indicates that there is also a wide variety of private label chocolate brands available in Dutch supermarkets. These private label products are increasingly popular because they offer the same quality and characteristics as branded products, but are usually offered at more competitive prices.
Low end: The low-end segment offers cheap chocolate products, with lower cocoa content. The products are often produced by large chocolate manufacturers, using mainly bulk cocoa from West Africa (Forastero variety). Bulk cocoa is characterised by high volumes, low value and standard quality. Rainforest Alliance/UTZ-certified cocoa is often used to certify low-end products.
The lower-end chocolate products are mainly found in supermarkets. These are usually mass-market products by big brands and lower-quality private label products from retailers themselves.
Examples of brands and an indication of consumer chocolate prices (based on Albert Heijn's retail prices in 2021) in Dutch supermarkets for lower-end products are:
AH (Private label brand, dark chocolate, 55%, UTZ-certified, 100 grams)
Delicata (Private label brand, dark chocolate, 58% Rainforest Alliance-certified, 100 grams)
Verkade (Milk chocolate, UTZ-certified, 111 grams)
Middle range: The middle-range segment includes chocolate products of good quality, which are commonly sustainably certified. Storytelling and the origin of the cocoa beans are important in this segment, mainly for marketing purposes.
Middle-range products are also mainly sold through supermarkets and are usually the high-quality category of retailers. Supermarkets increasingly offer their own premium private label chocolate products. These products offer similar quality and characteristics as branded products but are usually offered at more competitive prices.
The table below gives some examples of middle-range chocolate brands as well as an indication of consumer prices for these products (based on Albert Heijn's retail prices in 2021):
Delicata (Private label brand, dark chocolate, 85%, Rainforest Alliance-certified, 100 grams)
Tony’s Chocolonely (Dark chocolate, 70%, Fairtrade-certified, 180 grams)
Lindt Excellence (Dark chocolate, 85%, 100 grams)
High end: Smaller, more specialised chocolate makers produce high-end chocolate products, mainly using fine flavour cocoa (usually Criollo and Trinitario varieties, and/or to a lesser extent Forastero). These products are characterised by a high cocoa content. Single origin of the cocoa beans is important, both for the taste as the traceability of the cocoa. Bean-to-bar chocolate is a good example of a high-end product.
High-end products are mainly sold at chocolate events and in specialty shops. Examples of (e-)specialty shops in the Netherlands include Chocoladeverkopers, Chocolátl, The Chocolate Shop, The High Five Company and De Chocolade Meisjes. The website of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute and this list on beantobar.be provide you with more examples of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the Netherlands.
Some examples and an indication of consumer prices for high-end chocolate products (based on retail prices of Chocoladeverkopers in 2021) are:
Chocolate Makers (Dark chocolate, 80%, Peru, organic, 90 grams)
Heinde & Verre (Dark chocolate, 71%, Bali, Indonesia, 70 grams)
Krak (Dark chocolate, 70%, St Vincent & Grenadines, 80 grams)
*Source of pictures: https://chocoladeverkopers.nl/chocolade/
For exporters it is important to realise that trade prices and retail prices are not directly linked. As the below figure shows, only 6.6% of added value generally goes to farmers. In general, cocoa bean export prices, and the share kept by cocoa producers, will depend on the cocoa bean quality, the size of the lot and the supplier’s relationship with the buyer. The largest shares are kept by chocolate companies and retailers.
- Learn more about the promotion of standard quality and speciality chocolate by mainstream Dutch supermarkets such as Albert Heijn. Compare their product assortment and price levels with specialised stores such as Chocolátl.
- Refer to our study on trends in the cocoa sector to learn more about developments within different market segments.
- Monitor end-consumer prices of chocolate to get an idea of price ranges. Good sources for price information are the websites of supermarket chains and chocolate specialty stores.
- Want to sell high-quality cocoas to the Eastern European market? Try to establish direct trade relationships with smaller traders and chocolate makers to find shorter entry channels into the market. Also, learn more about cocoa quality. You might be interested in participating in one of the cocoa programmes of the Chocolate Institute, such as the cocoa grading course or the specialty cocoa growing training.
2. Through what channels does cocoa end up on the end market?
As an exporter, you can use different channels to bring your cocoa to the Dutch market. Entering the market will vary according to the quality of your cocoa beans and your supply capacities.
It is important to realise that the European market is moving towards shortened supply chains. This means retailers and cocoa-processing companies are increasingly sourcing their cocoa beans directly. The below figure shows you the most important channels for cocoa beans in the Netherlands.
Figure 5: The main channels for export of cocoa to the Netherlands
Cocoa bean processors/grinders
Large processors/grinders source their cocoa beans directly from producing countries. They process the raw material into cocoa mass, cocoa butter and/or cocoa powder, which they distribute to the confectionery, food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries throughout Europe. Some cocoa processors also manufacture end products to supply directly to the retail or food service sector.
Examples of cocoa bean processors/grinders in the Netherlands are Cargill, Dutch Cocoa (a subsidiary of ECOM Agroindustrial) and Olam. More specialised cocoa processors are the Crown of Holland (the cocoa processing facility of Tradin Organic, focused on processing organic cocoa) and JS Cocoa (much focused on the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries).
For whom is this an interesting channel? If you are an exporter of high volumes of bulk beans, then your direct trading partner is usually a cocoa grinder/processor. These companies tend to buy high volumes of standard qualities. They usually have cocoa-buying stations in producing countries to which you can sell your cocoa beans directly.
Importers of bulk cocoa beans normally handle large quantities and have direct contacts with exporters in producing countries. In most cases, importers have long-standing relationships with their suppliers. Importers either sell the cocoa beans to companies in the Netherlands or re-export them to other European buyers.
An example of a large importer of cocoa beans and/or semi-finished cocoa products active in the Netherlands is Theobroma (which has a cocoa processing plant in Nigeria). Facta International is a Dutch-based trader of cocoa beans and semi-finished cocoa products.
Importers active in the specialty segment usually deal with smaller quantities, and often work directly with producers and producer cooperatives. Examples of specialty trading companies in the Netherlands are Daarnhouwer, Crafting Markets, Gaia Cacao, Campo Lindo and Dietz Cacao Trading.
Specialised importers could also be interested in value-added cocoa products processed at the country of origin, as described in our study on the European market for semi-finished cocoa products, or even in finished products like chocolate. DO-IT and Huyser Möller are Dutch companies that import cocoa derivatives.
For whom is this an interesting channel? For exporters working with high volumes of bulk beans from producers/cooperatives, large companies that engage in cocoa processing activities and importing can serve as a gateway into the Dutch market. If you deal with bulk cocoa, discuss certification possibilities with your buyer.
Farmers or farmers’ cooperatives with specialty or certified cocoa can best sell cocoa beans directly to specialised cocoa importers. This is the case, as many specialised importers prefer to work directly with producers and/or cooperatives and not through exporters.
Also, if you produce or have very high-quality cocoa beans and are working through an importer, it might be interesting to discuss the possibilities to directly link up with high-end chocolate makers. This is mainly an opportunity for those that have the financial means and technical know-how to access the market directly.
Large (private label) chocolate manufacturers
The largest industrial chocolate manufacturer worldwide is Barry Callebaut, which has a production facility in the Netherlands (but no grinding facilities). Other large chocolate manufacturers active on the Dutch market are Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé and Tony’s Chocolonely. These companies all have their own importing departments and source their cocoa beans directly from producing countries.
Private label manufacturers may also be an interesting entry point for your cocoa beans. These companies are growing in importance as it becomes more common for large brands to outsource their production to specialised private label manufacturers. Examples of private label manufacturers in the Netherlands are Baronie, Delicia, Choco Support, the Candy Store and Colbrand.
For whom is this an interesting channel? Selling to these players is interesting if you have cocoa beans of a standard quality, and available in large volumes.
Small chocolate makers
Especially in the specialty and fine flavour segment, cocoa beans are increasingly traded directly from farmers (or farmer associations and cooperatives) to chocolate maker. Although direct trade is growing, it still represents a very small part of the cocoa market. Not all chocolate makers are able to sustain direct trade and all the responsibilities that are usually outsourced to traders, such as logistics, documentation and pre-financing.
Direct trade can also happen with an importer serving as intermediary, acting as a service provider and contact point in the transactions between the producer and the chocolate maker. Importers can also safeguard traceability and communicate the story of the cocoa beans accurately along the chain.
For whom is this an interesting channel? Targeting specialty chocolate makers directly is recommended for producers and exporters dealing with specialty cocoa beans. This requires financial means and technical know-how to organise export activities. You could also consider setting up local processing facilities to add more value to your cocoa beans. Our study on the European market for semi-finished cocoa products discusses this subject more in depth.
Agents act as intermediaries between you, cocoa importers and chocolate makers. Some agents are independent, but others are hired to procure cocoa beans on behalf of a company. An agent acts as an intermediary and has the knowledge to evaluate and select interesting buyers for you. Examples of brokers/agents in European countries are H.C.C.O Hanseatic Cocoa & Commodity Office (Germany) and Amius (United Kingdom).
For whom is this an interesting channel? If you have limited experience exporting to European countries, agents can play a very important role. Agents are also interesting if you lack financial and logistical resources to carry out trade activities. Working with an agent is also useful if you need a trusted and reputable partner within the cocoa sector. Be prepared to pay a commission for their work.
- Find buyers in the Netherlands who match your business philosophy and export capacities (in terms of quality, volume, certifications). For more tips on finding the right buyer for you, see our study on finding buyers on the European cocoa market.
- Attend trade fairs in Europe to meet potential buyers. Interesting trade fairs include Salon du Chocolat (France), Chocoa (Netherlands) and Biofach (Germany, for organic products). Attending such physical or virtual events can provide you with additional insight into the preferences of Dutch buyers, with regard to origin, flavour and sustainability certification. By understanding the market better, you can ensure that your specific product corresponds to the demand and requirements.
- Use industry associations to find potential buyers in the Netherlands, such as the Dutch Association of Bakery Goods and Sweets (VBZ).
- Invest in long-term relationships. Whether you are working through an importer or directly with a chocolate maker, it is important to establish a strategic and sustainable relationship with them. This will help you manage market risks, improve the quality of your product and reach a fair quality/price balance. For more tips, read our study on doing business with European cocoa buyers.
3. What competition do you face on the Dutch cocoa market?
The intensity of rivalry on the market is generally high for bulk cocoa with low added value. This segment is mainly dominated by major suppliers and cooperatives able to deliver large quantities so they can compete on price. It is difficult for small and medium-sized companies to compete within this segment. In the specialty cocoa market, there is more focus on quality, taste and sustainability. However, this market commands smaller volumes, so rivalry is also becoming increasingly intense.
Dutch cocoa processing industry relies on West Africa: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria
By far the largest share of Dutch cocoa bean imports comes from West Africa. In 2020, the Netherlands imported nearly 91% of its cocoa beans from West Africa. About 49% was supplied by Ivory Coast, amounting to 437 thousand tonnes. Other large suppliers include Cameroon (188 thousand tonnes), Ghana (81 thousand tonnes) and Nigeria (71 thousand tonnes).
Between 2016 and 2020, Dutch cocoa bean imports from Ivory Coast increased by an average annual rate of 11%. Cameroon also registered relatively high export growth rates at an average annual increase of 13%. Ghana and Nigeria registered a year-to-year decline of -17% and -11% respectively.
In these West-African cocoa producing countries there is a large presence of multinational processing companies like OLAM and Cargill, which have strong ties to small cocoa producers and cooperatives, especially in Ivory Coast.
Besides Cameroon, most countries in West Africa mainly produce Forastero cocoa beans and focus on the production of large volumes and lower quality. A large share of cocoa produced in these countries is Rainforest Alliance/UTZ-certified, which is a common market entry requirement to large manufacturers and retailers operating in mainstream markets.
Despite certification efforts, there are widespread sustainability concerns, especially regarding the cocoa sector in Ghana and Ivory Coast. For instance, cocoa farming has been identified as a main driver of deforestation, which contributes to climate change. As a response, industry players, donors and the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast launched the Cocoa and Forests Initiative. In addition, child labour in both countries is a returning concern, as an estimated 2.1 million children still work in the cocoa fields of Ghana and Ivory Coast.
In a bid to tackle poverty among farmers, the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast have raised the minimum export prices for cocoa at USD 2,600 per tonne, with the addition of a fixed ‘living income differential’ on all their cocoa sales (at USD 400 per tonne), applicable from the 2020/2021 crop.
As for Cameroon, the Cameroonian government and cocoa producer associations have launched programs to improve nationwide post-harvest techniques to improve cocoa quality. Although Cameroon mainly cultivates Trinitario, the Cameroonian type is classified as bulk cocoa. About one-third of cocoa exported by Cameroon is certified by Rainforest Alliance/UTZ.
The global cocoa industry heavily relies on West Africa for bulk cocoa to produce chocolate products. This dependency for bulk cocoa on the region has only become stronger over the years. In part because countries in other regions like Latin America have increased their focus on producing fine flavour and specialty cocoa. In addition, cocoa produced in West Africa is mainly destined for export, as domestic consumption is low in the region – unlike in Latin America and several countries in Asia.
Examples of cocoa exporters and producers’ organisations from West Africa that have access to the international market include: ECOOKIM and ECAKOOG (Ivory Coast), KONAFCOOP (Cameroon), ABOCFA and Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative Cocoa Farmers and Marketing Union Limited (Ghana).
Latin America: main supplier of fine flavour cocoa to the Netherlands
With a total of almost 56 thousand tonnes, Latin American countries supplied about 6.2% of total Dutch cocoa beans imports in 2020. In 2018, Latin American countries held an import share of 5.2%. Countries in Latin America have been affected by the European Union regulation limiting the maximum amounts of cadmium in cocoa products. Cadmium contamination is high in some cocoa-growing regions in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, which has led some buyers to source from alternative origins.
Ecuador was the main Latin American cocoa bean supplier in 2020, with a volume of 33 thousand tonnes. Cocoa bean supplies from Ecuador registered an average annual growth rate of 8.6% between 2016 and 2020. As much as 75% of Ecuador’s cocoa exports are considered to be fine flavour, which makes it the world’s largest fine flavour cocoa producer. In total volume, Ecuador was the world’s fifth-largest cocoa producer in 2019. Ecuador is strongly promoting the origin of its cocoa beans. This is important, as chocolate products with cocoa origin claims attract a 51% higher retail price and higher consumer appreciation in the growing online retail space.
The Dominican Republic was the second-largest Latin American supplier of cocoa beans to the Netherlands with an estimate of almost 11 thousand tonnes in 2020. Supplies by the Dominican Republic decreased at an average annual decline of -3.0% between 2016 and 2020. The Dominican Republic was the world’s tenth-largest cocoa producer in 2019. As much as 60% of the country’s cocoa exports are recognised as fine flavour, which are mainly cocoa beans from the Trinitario and Criollo varieties.
In addition, the Dominican Republic is an important supplier of organic cocoa. In fact, with about 73 thousand hectares of cocoa harvest area certified as organic in 2018, the Dominican Republic is the world’s largest organic cocoa producer. A large share of organically produced cocoa from the Dominican Republic is also Fairtrade certified.
Peru was the third-largest Latin American cocoa bean suppliers to the Netherlands in 2020, with 9.8 thousand tonnes. Peruvian cocoa bean supplies decreased at a year-to-year rate of -24% between 2016 and 2020. This is partly explained as Peru is increasingly promoting the export of semi-finished cocoa products, as a value addition to its products. Peruvian exports of semi-finished products have increased steadily over the years, while its cocoa bean exports are decreasing.
Peru ranked as the eight-largest cocoa producer in 2019. About 75% of Peru’s total cocoa exports are registered as fine flavour cocoa. Peru is also known as a main supplier of organic cocoa: Peru ranked as the world’s fourth-largest organic cocoa producer, after the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone and DR Congo. The high share of organic cocoa in combination with high-quality cocoa gives Peru a strong competitive advantage.
In addition, Peru has managed to strongly promote the quality and unique origin of its cocoa beans. Peru’s cocoa association APPCACAO is a driving force to develop the cocoa sector through a countrywide coordinated effort between cocoa associations/cooperatives, companies, support organisations and the government.
Sierra Leone: supplier of organic cocoa beans
Sierra Leone supplied an estimated 20 thousand tonnes of cocoa beans to the Netherlands in 2020. Between 2016 and 2020, cocoa bean supplies by the West African country increased at an average annual rate of 20%.
The production capacity of Sierra Leone in general increased at a steady rate in the past years, at a year-to-year growth of 5.1% between 2015 and 2019. Especially the production of organic cocoa has increased much. In 2019, Sierra Leone ranked as the second-largest organic cocoa producer in the world, with a dedicated organic cocoa production area of nearly 80 thousand hectares. Sierra Leone was the third-largest organic cocoa supplier to Europe, with 11 thousand tonnes in total. The organic cocoa sector in Sierra Leone has been boosted by Dutch importer Tradin Organic since 2015. Since 2017, the trading company has its own cocoa sourcing company in the country.
Sierra Leone has attracted greater interest from buyers as an alternative source of organic cocoa beans, with low incidence of cadmium contamination compared to Latin America. An example of an exporting cocoa cooperative from Sierra Leone is Salmed.
- Identify your potential competitors. To be successful as an exporter, it is important to learn from them. Focus on their marketing strategies, the product characteristics they highlight and their value addition approaches. Successful companies that already export to the European market from which you can learn include Casa Franceschi (Venezuela), Hacienda Betulia (Colombia), Ingemann (Nicaragua) and Xoco Gourmet (Central America, mainly active in Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Nicaragua). Have a look at their websites to see how they highlight information about their products, such as their cocoa varieties, origin and processing methods.
- Identify and promote your unique selling points. Give detailed information about your cocoa growing region (origin), the varieties, qualities, processing techniques and certification of the cocoa you offer. You can also tell about the history of your organisation, your cocoa growing farm(s) and the passion and dedication of the people working there. These are all elements that make your company unique.
- Read our study on how to do business with European cocoa buyers to find more tips on how to market your cocoa.
- Actively promote your company on your website and at trade fairs. Flavour quality competitions also provide good opportunities to share your story (such as the International Chocolate Awards of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme).
- Work together with other cocoa producers and exporters in your region if you lack company size or product volume. Together you can promote good-quality cocoa from your region and be a more attractive and more competitive supplier for the European market.
- Develop long-term partnerships with your buyer. This implies always complying with buyer’s requirements and keeping your promises. This will provide you with a competitive advantage, more knowledge and stability on the Dutch market.
- Check possible programmes to support your crop and its productivity. Refer to your national Ministry of Agriculture and other local programmes. Also check if there are local support programmes in your region from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Finance Corporation (IFC), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and other organisations.
This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by ProFound – Advisers in Development.
Please review our market information disclaimer.