Exporting cocoa to Belgium
Belgium is famous for its chocolates. It has the second-largest cocoa port in Europe, Antwerp. It plays a significant role as a supply base for cocoa deliveries to the industries of neighbouring countries. It has the world’s largest processing factory and a flourishing sector of artisanal chocolatiers proudly using the adjective “Belgian” on their wrappings. Belgium imports around 97% of its cocoa beans from developing countries and, although its imports consist predominantly of bulk beans, the demand for high-quality cocoa is growing.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- What is the demand for cocoa in Belgium?
- Which trends offer opportunities on the Belgian market for cocoa?
- With which requirements should cocoa comply in order to be allowed on the Belgian market?
- What do the trade channels and interesting market segments look like in the Belgian market for cocoa?
- What are the end-market prices for cocoa?
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) grows in tropical environments within 15–20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. The main cocoa-growing regions are Africa, Asia and Latin America. After extraction from the pod, cocoa seeds are fermented and then sun-dried. A producing cocoa tree can deliver on average 0.5–2 kg of dried seeds per year.
Statistical product classification
Harmonised System (HS) codes are used to classify products and calculate international trade statistics (imports and exports). This fact sheet focuses on cocoa beans with HS code 1801. Other cocoa products are discussed in our study of value-added cocoa products in Europe.
The cocoa market distinguishes three main varieties of cocoa beans:
- High-grade, Criollo cocoa (the original cocoa tree)
Originally grown in Venezuela, Central America and Mexico, but now also cultivated in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Sri Lanka, Criollo beans account for 5%–10% of all global cocoa production. The beans have a delicately bitter, aromatic flavour and are easily processed.
- Common-grade, Forastero cocoa
Originally grown in the high Amazon region, these beans are now the predominant cocoa variety cultivated in Africa, representing around 80% of all global cocoa production. The beans have a flatter flavour than the more fruity and citric Criollo or Trinitario beans.
- High-grade, Trinitario cocoa
Originally grown in Trinidad, but now also cultivated in Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Trinitario beans account for 10% to 15% of all global cocoa production. The beans are a hybrid between the Criollo and Forastero trees.
High-grade (fine flavour) cocoa beans are generally of a higher quality than common-grade cocoa beans due to their more pronounced organoleptic characteristics. Their distinctive flavour is sought primarily by manufacturers of high-quality chocolate. Fine flavour beans are usually produced from trees that contain the genetics of Criollo and/or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties, while common grade (bulk) cocoa beans for mass production are genetically derived from Forastero trees. Nevertheless, harvesting (ripe fruits) and processing techniques (homogeneous fermentation and especially drying) are also important to harness the “fine” qualities of fine flavour cocoa beans. Fine flavour cocoa beans fetch higher prices on the market than bulk cocoa beans, due to their intrinsic quality but also due to marketing aspects (for example, elaborate stories or more transparency).
To moderate the initially bitter flavour of cocoa and to develop the typical cocoa flavour, the beans must be subjected to a fermentation process. Cocoa grading differs across producing and consuming countries. Over the years, however, standard practices have been formulated by the leading international cocoa trade associations. The Federation of Cocoa Commerce Ltd (FCC) distinguishes two grades:
- well-fermented cocoa beans, with less than 5% mould, less than 5% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter;
- fairly fermented cocoa beans, with less than 10% mould, less than 10% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter.
Cocoa beans should be shipped shortly after harvest, as extended storage (>6 months) may result in losses due to the relatively high humidity in tropical environments.
Cocoa beans are traditionally shipped in jute bags. A single bag generally weighs 60–65 kg. In recent years, however, shipment of cocoa beans in bulk has become more important due to the lower handling costs. Loose cocoa beans are loaded either in shipping containers or directly into the hold of the ship. The latter case is known as the “mega-bulk” method, which is often adopted by larger cocoa processors. Shipment in bags is still common, especially within the fine flavour cocoa segment.
How much cocoa is ground in Belgium?
*2015/2016 are estimates and 2016/2017 are forecasts
Fifth-largest grinder in Europe
Cocoa grinding in Belgium has remained relatively stable since 2014 (Figure 1A). In 2016, Belgium ground 90,000 tonnes, making it the fifth-largest grinder in Europe (5.0%) behind the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain (Figure 1B). Cocoa grinding is expected to remain relatively stable. In Belgium, the only grinding companies are those of Barry Callebaut (by far the largest) and Mondelēz.
The Belgian Chocolate Code refers to “Belgian chocolate” as chocolate of which the complete process of mixing, refining and conching is done in Belgium. In response to this code, Barry Callebaut increased its grindings considerably, processing beans for its own chocolate products and increasingly for other companies either in Belgium or abroad that want to use the adjective “Belgian” on their packaging.
Major producer of industrial chocolate
The Belgian grinding industry mostly handles beans imported through neighbouring countries (the Netherlands, Germany and France). Belgium has an important role in the production of industrial chocolate: liquid chocolate and couverture, basic ingredients for the manufacture of final chocolate products.
Strong and mature Belgian chocolate industry
Belgian chocolate is internationally known for its fine quality. The Belgian chocolate industry proudly uses the adjective “Belgian” on its products.
- Belgium has a very well-developed chocolate industry, both for cheaper mainstream chocolates and for the premium market. Chocolate confectionery for the mainstream brands is a mature category. Opportunities lie in the field of premium/speciality products, variety of offer and single-origin offerings. The success of chocolate brand Merci in Belgium, for example, is based on these characteristics.
- Beans with a specific high quality or origin can attract smaller processors, particularly those who prefer to buy from the original source. Examples of Belgian companies in this segment include Charlemagne, Bouchard and NewTree.
How much cocoa is consumed in Belgium?
Belgians are fond of good-quality chocolate
Belgians are famous for their chocolate. According to the Guardian, Belgians spent about € 68 per capita on chocolate in 2015. To compare, consumers in Switzerland spent the most on chocolate in Europe, at € 211 per capita in 2015. One possible explanation for a relatively small consumption per capita is the focus on quality rather than quantity. In Belgium, chocolate consumption is growing slowly in general, with a strong preference for high-quality chocolate. In the past ten years, the share of sustainable chocolate consumed has been rising. Additional information on this trend is presented in the section on “Trends”.
How much cocoa is imported into Belgium?
Belgium is the third-largest importer of cocoa beans in Europe
Belgium is the third-largest importer of cocoa beans in Europe
With a market share of 15%, Belgium is the third-largest importer of cocoa beans in Europe, behind the Netherlands and Germany. In 2016, Belgian imports of cocoa beans amounted to 305,000 tonnes (€ 901 million). The total volume of cocoa beans imported by Belgium increased by an average of 11% per year between 2012 and 2016. This increase is in line with the increasing exports of chocolate products such as chocolate bars but also chocolate powder and paste.
Côte d’Ivoire is the largest supplier to Belgium
Belgium is home to the second-largest cocoa port in the world (Antwerp), after the Netherlands (Amsterdam). This fact explains the large quantity of cocoa beans imported directly from producing countries, at more than 97% of the total imports in 2016. Africa is the main supplying continent, accounting for around 80% of the share in imports. Côte d’Ivoire is by far the most important supplying country to Belgium with a share of 58%. Ghana is in second place with a share of 18%, followed by the Dominican Republic (4.8%) and Peru (3.9%; see Figure 2B).
How much cocoa is exported from Belgium?
Large re-exporter of cocoa beans
Belgium is the largest re-exporter of cocoa beans in Europe, with total re-exports amounting to 187,000 tonnes (€ 554 million) in 2016. Between 2012 and 2016, cocoa bean re-exports increased by an annual average of 13%. Almost all cocoa beans are re-exported to other European countries. Around 70% of the cocoa bean re-exports were destined to Germany and France.
Large chocolate exporter
Belgium also exports a large amount of chocolate (Figure 4). Branding of “Made in Belgium” chocolate is important and is recognised worldwide, communicating tradition and high quality.
In 2016, the volume of chocolate exports amounted to 577,000 tonnes, making Belgium the second-largest chocolate exporter in Europe behind Germany (831,000 tonnes). Most of these exports are destined to neighbouring France, the Netherlands and Germany. The United States and Japan are also important destinations for Belgium’s chocolate exports.
At the same time, a lot of the chocolates consumed in Belgium are imported. This situation is due to the fact that, of the major chocolate brands, only Côte d’Or is produced locally. The other major brands such as Mars and Nestlé are imported from other countries as finished products.
- Note that around half of the beans imported by Belgium will be exported as beans to the industries of surrounding countries. The Port of Antwerp plays an important role here. Find out the final destination of your beans and explore the possibility of shipping your beans directly to the country of their final destination.
- If you have the financial means and the technical know-how to organise export activities, explore opportunities to work directly with Belgian chocolatiers. The website of the Belgian association of sugar and cocoa processing companies (FENACO) is currently inactive, but you can find a list of Belgian chocolatiers on the Choco Guide of Homborg Finest Food.
- For more information about trade statistics on the European cocoa market in general, refer to ITC Trade Map.
Growing market for premium chocolate
The demand for premium chocolate is increasing in Belgium, driven by a shift in consumer preferences towards more exclusive confectionary products, as well as by the increase in attention to the health benefits of chocolates with higher cocoa content. As a result, the sales of premium products (for example, speciality chocolate, fine flavour chocolate and chocolate with a sustainability label) are rising.
- Focus on the premium/speciality/fine flavour cocoa market. The premium cocoa market is accessible only to cocoa with high quality standards. You should therefore ensure that you are able to deliver high-quality cocoa beans.
- In Europe, market preferences (for example, with regard to flavour and origin) can differ by country. For this reason, you would do well to consult with current and potential Belgian trade partners on their ideas of how to create opportunities for premium cocoa products on the Belgian market.
- Try to establish direct trade relationships with smaller Belgian traders or chocolate makers, as this trade channel is the most commonly used for premium cocoa. Additional information is presented in the section on “What do the trade channels and interesting market segments look like on the Belgian market for cocoa?”
Increasing demand for transparency
There is an increasing demand for transparency, both from consumers and chocolate makers. Both groups want to know the stories behind the cocoa beans and want to understand who earns what in the supply chain. Transparency comes with an improved traceability, which is more easily managed in certified supply chains and in direct trade relations.
- Know and share the story about your cocoa beans. For example, tell about how your farmers live and how they produce their beans. Enhance your story with visuals (for example, photos and videos).
Commitment to sustainable cocoa
An increasing number of Belgian companies, both producers and retailers, are committing themselves to sustainability. For example, Baronie and Lidl have committed to the UTZ Certified label, Mondelēz has committed to the Rainforest Alliance. Nevertheless, the willingness (and awareness) of Belgian consumers to buy chocolate with a sustainability label is relatively low compared to that of other European consumers. In 2011, a panel was organised to discuss challenges and opportunities to work towards a sustainable value chain for Belgian cocoa. However, in the absence of the federal government at the time, this process came to a halt. Currently, partly as a result of growing international pressure, the Belgians are increasingly urged to come up with initiatives in order to support a sustainable cocoa supply chain. The current shift towards sustainable cocoa is emerging predominantly from initiatives of producers and retailers, rather than from the consumers or the government.
- If you consider exporting certified beans, talk with importers about the preferred certification labels for the Belgian market (or one of its export markets). Regarding organic, the labels Biogarantie and Agence BIO (AB) are popular in Belgium, for example. You may also contact BTC, the Belgian Development Agency, which focuses on “Trade for Development”. It publishes several reports on the use of sustainability labels in Belgian supermarkets.
- Belgian trade unions, including ACV (Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond) and ABVV (Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond), are active in the field of cocoa and sustainability. They have, for example, developed their own action plans. Contact them for further information.
Increased demand for healthy products
Belgian consumers are increasingly looking for “healthier” products (for example, sugar-free confectionary products and products with positive health benefits). The confectionary industry is responding to this trend by increasingly using natural sweeteners (for example, stevia and agave).
- Focus on developing and producing cocoa products with “healthier” components (for example, dark chocolate, chocolate with added fruit, vegetables or nuts, and chocolate with natural sweeteners).
- Stay abreast of the newest trends on the chocolate market, as the market is continuously in motion. For example, be sure that you are aware of the latest trends in nutritional and health-related topics, and try to incorporate them in your product offerings.
For more information about trends on the European cocoa market in general, refer to our study of Trends for cocoa.
With which legal and non-legal requirements must my product comply?
When exporting cocoa to Belgium, you must meet the legal requirements set by the European Union, particularly those concerning food safety, food contaminants and labelling. No additional legal requirements apply specifically to the export of cocoa to Belgium.
Which additional requirements do buyers often have?
Some buyers have requirements that extend beyond existing European legislation. The main categories of additional requirements of European buyers have to do with food safety, and environmental and social requirements. In general, western and northern European buyers (including Belgian buyers) have stricter additional requirements and are more active in the field of sustainability than buyers from southern and eastern Europe.
- Our study of Buyer requirements for cocoa provides an overview of the most important legal, non-legal and additional requirements (including niche requirements) on the European cocoa market. The requirements described in this publication also apply to Belgian buyers.
- Different buyers may have different preferences for particular food safety management systems and sustainability labels. For this reason, you would do well to consult with current and potential Belgian buyers in your target segment on their preferences in this regard. In general, the International Food Standard is the food safety management system that is most commonly required by Belgian retailers, while UTZ Certified and Fairtrade are the most popular sustainability labels. For additional information about the market for certified cocoa in Europe, refer to the product fact sheet Certified cocoa in Europe.
5 . What do the trade channels and interesting market segments look like in the Belgian market for cocoa?
Belgium has a strong cocoa industry. There are only two large companies that start from the bean (the importers/grinders), namely Barry Callebaut and Mondelēz. Mondelēz basically grinds beans to liquor for the production of chocolates under the brand name Côte d’Or, whereas Callebaut produces cocoa and chocolate products for its own chocolate manufacturing as well as for other companies worldwide. Four companies specialise in the production of industrial chocolate, to wit Callebaut (the largest in the world), Cargill, Belcolade and Mondelēz.
In terms of chocolate confectionery, Belgium is home to a few large international companies (Callebaut, Mondelēz and Ferrero). It also has a large number of smaller chocolate companies such as Guylan, Hamlet, Leonidas, Godiva, Baronie and Neuhaus, as well as chocolatiers and praliniers. However, Guylan is expected to become larger after the company invested € 6.8 million in upgrading its Belgian cocoa plant mid-2017.
- To find an appropriate Belgian partner, check the member lists of Choprabisco (both small companies and multinationals). Another option is to visit the websites of Flanderstrade and Chocoguide for companies engaged in Belgian confectionery.
- If you would like to focus on the premium/speciality/fine flavour cocoa market, direct trade is the preferred trade channel. Try to establish direct trade relationships with smaller Belgian traders, speciality chocolate stores, chocolatiers or praline makers.
- Attend relevant cocoa/chocolate industry events in Belgium to meet potential direct and indirect buyers. Interesting trade fairs include Salon du Chocolat and Fedoba. Attendance at such events can also provide you with additional insight into the preferences of Belgian buyers (for example, with regard to origin, flavour and sustainability certification).
For more information about market channels and segments on the European cocoa market in general, refer to our study of Market channels and segments for cocoa.
Our study of Finding buyers offers suggestions for locating buyers on the European market.
Consumer prices are rising
Consumer market prices for chocolate are quite volatile, due in part to the highly volatile prices of cocoa beans. To provide an indication of the prevailing prices, several examples of consumer prices for chocolate in Belgium for different segments are presented in Table 1. Note that these prices are intended only for illustration, as prices may fluctuate during the year.
Table 1: Examples of consumer prices for chocolate in Belgium for different segments, September 2017
Source: Websites of several retailers
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