Entering the Swiss market for cocoa
Opportunities for premium chocolates made from specialty and certified cocoa are growing significantly in Switzerland. The Swiss market for Fairtrade and organic products is especially large compared to other countries. Given the widespread availability of certified chocolates in Switzerland, certification may be a key entry requirement for cocoa exporters in most Swiss market segments.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), but a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). To facilitate free trade with the EU, to a large extent, Switzerland has adapted its food laws to European law. Hence they are based on EU legislation. For a complete overview of EU requirements, refer to our study on buyer requirements for cocoa or consult the specific requirements for cocoa in the EU Trade Helpdesk.
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 Swiss 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 Swiss market for cocoa beans, you will have to meet your buyer’s quality standards. These are particularly high within the specialty segment for fine flavour cocoa beans.
Buyers in Switzerland 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 used among 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)’s cocoa sampling protocol and cocoa 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.
- The methodology developed by the Cocoa of Excellence Program, to assess the quality of cocoa in different stages.
There are no harmonised international procedures, nor is there a specific terminology for assessing cocoa bean quality and flavour and its direct relation to high-quality chocolate for buyers and consumers. However, a workgroup, coordinated by the Cocoa of Excellence Programme, is currently developing international standards for assessing cocoa quality.
The labels of cocoa beans exported to Switzerland should comply with the general food labelling requirements of the European Union. The label should be in English and include the following topics to ensure traceability of individual batches:
- Product name
- Lot or batch code
- Country of origin
- Net weight in kilograms
If 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 3). 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
- For the full buyer requirements, read the study on buyer requirements for cocoa in Europe.
- Check the website of EUROLex 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 trading and shipping cocoa beans in the Cocoa guide to trade practices of the International Trade Centre.
2. Additional requirements to keep up with the market
Additional food safety requirements
You can expect buyers in Switzerland 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. 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) or British Retail Consortium Global Standards (BRC) certificates, for your manufacturing facilities.
Additional sustainability requirements
As corporate responsibility and sustainability are growing in importance in the Swiss cocoa sector, it is essential to adopt codes of conduct or sustainability policies related to environmental and social impacts. Leading companies on the Swiss chocolate market (such as Lindt & Sprüngli and Chocolats Halba) have sustainability policies emphasising the contact with producers, transparency in their operations, as well their social and environmental impact.
Certification standard Rainforest Alliance/UTZ is less popular in Switzerland than in other European markets such as the Netherlands. This is mainly due to the Swiss market proposition of sustainability which is geared more towards organic and/or fair-trade certification. Still, about 60 traders, cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers operating in Switzerland are indeed Rainforest Alliance/UTZ-certified.
- 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.
- See our study on certified cocoa for more information about the demand on the European market, trends and specific trade channels.
3. Niche requirements
Switzerland represents an important market for organic-certified cocoa products in Europe. In order to market your cocoa as organic in Switzerland, it must comply with the regulations of the Swiss Organic Law.
A mandatory national logo for organic products does not exist in Switzerland. However, the private label of Bio Suisse, the Swiss private organic sector association, is widely used. Note that the standards of this label are stricter with regard to agricultural production and processing than the Swiss Organic Law, or EU Organic regulation. Retailer Coop, the largest seller of organic food in Switzerland, only accepts organic products from this standard. Other organic standards used in Switzerland are Demeter and Migros Bio, the private organic label of retailer Migros. Each scheme has its own requirements, and may be required by specific buyers.
The market for Fairtrade cocoa is also large in Switzerland, offering interesting opportunities in this niche market. Common fair-trade standards on the Swiss market include Fairtrade Max Havelaar and Fair for life.
Before you can market your cocoa beans as fair trade and/or organic, an accredited certifier must audit your growing and processing facilities. Examples of accredited certifiers are Control Union, Ecocert, FLOCERT, ProCert and SGS.
- Learn more about organic farming and European organic guidelines on the European Union website and the Organic Export Info website.
- Find importers that specialise in organic products on the website of Organicbio.
- 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 Swiss buyer who is familiar with sustainable and/or fair-trade products, for instance through using the FLOCERT customer database.
- Try to combine audits if you have more than one certification. This can save time and money. Also investigate the possibilities for group certification with other producers and exporters in your region.
1. How is the end market segmented?
Cocoa beans are used for processing in four different industries: confectionery, food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical. This document focuses only on the confectionery industry, as this is the main segment for cocoa beans. In 2017, the confectionery industry alone was responsible for about 43% of total global cocoa consumption. It mainly processes cocoa liquor and butter into chocolate products, such as bars, candy bars and bonbons.
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
Low end: The low-end segment offers cheap cholate products, with lower cocoa content. The products are often produced by large chocolate manufacturers, for which they predominantly use bulk cocoa from West Africa (Forastero variety). Bulk cocoa is characterised by high volumes, low value and standard quality. Rainforest Alliance/UTZ-certified cocoa has become mainstream, and is increasingly being used to certify low-end products.
The mainstream chocolate (candy) bars found on the low end of the Swiss confectionery market are usually mass-market products of big brands and lower-quality private label products from supermarkets. Examples are:
- Toblerone and Milka (manufactured by Mondelez)
- Chocolat Frey (Migros)
- Ragusa and Torino (Camille Bloch)
- Cailler (Nestlé).
Lower-end chocolate products are predominantly sold in supermarkets. The largest retailers in Switzerland are Coop and Migros. With a market share of over 33%, Migros’ brand Chocolat Frey was the most sold chocolate product in retail shops in 2018. The product line of Chocolat Frey ranges from low-end to middle-range products.
An indication of consumer chocolate prices (based on Coop’s retail prices in 2019) in Swiss supermarkets for lower-end products is shown in the table below. Please note that the cost of living in Switzerland is generally higher than in other European countries, resulting in higher retail prices.
COOP (Fairtrade dark chocolate 72%)
Cailler (dark chocolate 64%)
Torino (dark chocolate)
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.
Examples of middle-range products available in Switzerland include the popular Swiss brand Lindt. Lindt is mainly known for their wide range of premium chocolate bars made from Trinitario and/or Forastero cocoa. Other Swiss brands are Chocolat Stella (manufactured by Stella Bernrain) and Amarrú (PRONATEC), which are both premium and sustainably produced.
Lindt is sold through the same supermarkets as mentioned above. The other brands are mainly sold through specialised shops, such as Farmy (an online shop for organic products). The table below gives an indication of consumer chocolate prices for middle-range products:
Lindt Excellence (dark chocolate 70%)
Amarrú (organic dark chocolate 71%)
Chocolat Stella (organic dark chocolate, Brazil, 70%)
High end: Smaller, more specialised chocolate makers produce high-end chocolate products, for which often fine flavour cocoa is used (usually a mix of Criollo, Trinitario 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.
Choba Choba, La Flor, Orfeve, Sadé Chocolat and Taucherli are examples of Swiss bean-to-bar makers. Examples of other specialty chocolatiers in Switzerland are Gysi, Max Chocolatier and Teuscher. These products are mainly sold through their own shops, at trade fairs or through specialty shops. An example of a specialty web shop is Chocolats du Monde.
Chocolate consumer prices for high-end chocolate products are:
Choba Choba, Alicia (dark chocolate, Peru, 71%)
Taucherli Bean to Bar (dark chocolate, Nicaragua, 72%)
La Flor (dark chocolate, Brazil)
For exporters it is important to realise that trade prices and retail prices behave independently, and thus are not directly linked. As the below figure shows, only 6.6% of added value goes to farmers. In general, export prices of cocoa beans, 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 Swiss supermarkets such as Coop. Compare their product assortment and price levels with specialised stores such as Chocolats du Monde.
- 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, chocolate specialty stores and chocolate web shops, such as Chocolats du Monde.
2. Through what channels does cocoa reach the end market?
As an exporter, you can use different channels to access the Swiss market with your cocoa. Your market entry 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 Switzerland:
Figure 5: The main channels for exporting cocoa to Switzerland
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 grinders also manufacture end products to supply directly to the retail or food service sector. Examples of cocoa bean processors/grinders in Switzerland are Barry Callebaut, Lindt & Sprüngli and Nestlé.
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 beans directly.
Importers of bulk cocoa handle large quantities and have 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 Switzerland or re-export them to other European buyers.
Examples of large importers of cocoa beans and/or cocoa derivatives active in Switzerland are the previously mentioned Barry Callebaut, Lindt & Sprüngli and Nestlé.
Switzerland has many importers active in the specialty segment. They usually deal with smaller quantities, and often work directly with producers and producer cooperatives. Examples of specialty trading companies in Switzerland are PRONATEC (sources organic and fair trade cocoa), Minka SCS (sustainable cocoa), Caboz (fairly traded African cocoa), Walter Matter (fair trade cocoa), Chocolats Halba (fair-trade cocoa) and Stella Bernrain (organic and fair-trade cocoa).
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.
For whom is this an interesting channel? For exporters working with high volumes of bulk beans from producers/cooperatives, large importing companies can serve as a gateway into the Swiss market. If you deal with bulk cocoa, discuss certification requirements and possible industrial applications with your importer. Note that many specialised importers prefer to work directly with producers and/or cooperatives and not through exporters.
A producer association selling specialty or certified cocoa can best sell its cocoa beans directly to specialised cocoa importers. If you produce or have very high-quality cocoa beans and you are working through an importer, it is best to also discuss the possibilities to directly link up with high-end chocolate makers.
If as an individual farmer you have the financial means and technical know-how to organise export activities, then you may also sell your beans directly to specialised importers or chocolate makers.
Large (private label) chocolate manufacturers
Large (industrial) chocolate manufacturers active on the Swiss market are Barry Callebaut, Camille Bloch, Maestrani, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé and Lindt & Sprüngli. 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 Switzerland include the previously mentioned Stella Bernrain, Chocolats Halba and PRONATEC.
For whom is this an interesting channel? Selling to these players is interesting if you have cocoa of a standard quality in high volumes. This may also be an interesting channel for local grinders with cocoa mass and cocoa butter which meet high quality standards (which means they do not need to be processed again). Then you can trade directly with European confectionery and food companies. If you have lower quality semi-processed cocoa products, your direct trading partner will usually be a European importer or grinder.
Small chocolate makers
Especially in the specialty and fine flavour segment, cocoa beans are increasingly traded directly between farmer (association) and 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, since responsibilities that are usually outsourced to traders (such as logistics, documentation and pre-financing) now need to be handled by the chocolate maker.
In this sense, direct trade can also take place with an importer as intermediary, who acts as a service provider and contact point in the transactions between the source and the end market. Such importers can also guarantee 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 you having the 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 more in depth.
- Find buyers in Switzerland 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 events include Biofach (Germany, fair specialised in organic products), Chocoa (the Netherlands) and Salon du Chocolat (France). Attending such events can provide you with additional insight into the preferences of Swiss 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.
- Connect to platforms or traders such as Direct Cacao and Cocoanect; they help establish links between farmers and chocolate makers. Read more about direct trade and shorter cocoa chains in our study on trends in the cocoa sector.
- Use industry associations to find potential buyers in Switzerland, such as Chocosuisse, the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufactures. Also check the members of the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa.
- Invest in longterm 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.
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 with this segment. The level of competition is lower in the specialty cocoa market. In this segment there is more focus on quality, taste and sustainability.
Ghana is Switzerland’s main supplier of cocoa beans
The largest share of cocoa bean imports by Switzerland was supplied by Ghana, at over 58 thousand tonnes in 2018. Between 2014 and 2018, Swiss cocoa bean imports from Ghana increased at an average annual rate of 4.5% in volume, and by 3.2% in value.
Ghana is one of the largest producers of Forastero cocoa beans worldwide. Forastero beans are mainly used in the mainstream market. A large share of cocoa produced in Ghana is Rainforest Alliance/UTZ-certified, which is a market entry requirement to large manufacturers and retailers operating in mainstream markets.
The cocoa supply chain in Ghana is well established, and the Ghanaian government is involved in all facets of it. The national Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) encourages production, processing and the marketing of cocoa beans. It is also the main trader of cocoa beans to international markets, which means that the share of international cocoa traders is fairly low in Ghana.
The amount of cocoa beans supplied by Ivory Coast is relatively low, especially when compared to the import figures from other European countries. Ivory Coast supplied 3.3 thousand tonnes in 2018. This number has been decreasing over the years; between 2014 and 2018, imports by Switzerland from Ivory Coast decreased at an average annual rate of 19%. This decrease is likely due to the increasing cocoa processing activities in Ivory Coast.
Latin America is a key supplier of specialty and organic cocoa for the Swiss market
About 29% of Swiss cocoa imports are provided by Latin America. Latin American countries are known for their high shares of fine flavour cocoa in total production, as well as for the production of organic cocoa. About 70% of organic cocoa is produced in Latin America.
Ecuador is Latin America’s main supplier of cocoa beans to Switzerland. Swiss imports from Ecuador amounted to more than 10 thousand tonnes of cocoa beans in 2018, at a value of nearly €25 million. Between 2014 and 2018, Ecuador’s supplies remained stable.
Ecuador strongly markets the origin of its cocoa beans. As much as 75% of Ecuador’s cocoa exports are fine flavour beans. Promoting the origin of your cocoa beans gives you a competitive advantage, as chocolate products with cocoa origin claims attract a 51% higher retail price and higher consumer appreciation in the growing online retail space.
Other fairly large Latin American suppliers of cocoa beans to Switzerland are Peru (912 tonnes, at a value of €2.7 million) and Venezuela (403 tonnes, at a value of €1.1 million). Imports from Peru remained stable between 2014 and 2018. About 75% of Peru’s cocoa exports are registered as fine flavour cocoa. Peru is also a large producer of organic cocoa beans (the world’s third largest). Imports from Venezuela decreased by 2.6% between 2014 and 2018. According to ICCO, 100% of exports from Venezuela are registered as fine flavour cocoa.
Swiss imports from the Dominican Republic increased significantly between 2014 and 2018. The Dominican Republic is the world’s largest organic cocoa producer. A great share of organically produced cocoa from the Dominican Republic is also Fairtrade certified. For instance, specialty trading company PRONATEC imports large shares of its cocoa from the Dominican Republic, under their own project Yacao.
Large share of Swiss specialty cocoa is sourced from Madagascar
Madagascar is the fourth-largest supplier of cocoa beans to Switzerland. According to ICCO, 100% of cocoa exports from Madagascar are fine flavour cocoa. Supplies to Switzerland have grown rapidly by an average annual increase of 15% between 2014 and 2018.
The large organic market in Switzerland explains the steep increase of Swiss imports from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 2014 and 2018, Congolese cocoa supplies to Switzerland increased at an average annual rate of 59% in volume (66% in value). Congo is the world’s second-largest organic cocoa producer. However, Congo’s supplies to Switzerland remain small at an estimated 91 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2018.
- 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.
- Map 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.
- Actively promote your company on your website and at trade fairs. Flavour quality competitions also provide good opportunities to share your story (example: International Chocolate Awards of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme).
- Work together with other cocoa producers and exporters in your region when you lack company size or product volume. Together you can promote goodquality cocoa from your region and be a more attractive and more competitive supplier for the European market.
- Develop longterm 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 Swiss 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.