11 tips for finding buyers on the European cocoa market
Europe plays a dominant role in the global cocoa sector. The largest European ports of Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands) are important, as well as the extensive European grinding and processing industry. This situation means plenty of opportunities for finding buyers. Use the following tips to help you identify potential buyers for your products.
Contents of this page
- Know your product and its potential and then define your ideal buyer profile
- Identify preferred market channels
- Build and expand your business network
- Visit the websites of sector associations
- Contact your country’s embassy or consulate on your target market
- Study online trade directories
- Visit or participate in trade fairs (or their websites)
- Use social networks
- Team up with buyer missions, matchmaking programmes and trade missions
- Contact your buyers with confidence
- Invest in online marketing
Ask yourself what kind of cocoa you produce or want to produce. Be aware of the fact that European buyers are increasingly looking for cacao which is different, not just for bulk. They are looking for specific flavours and nuances in fragrance and texture.
There is, for example, an increasing demand for fine flavour (or specialty) cocoa. In this niche market, smaller quantities of more expensive quality cocoa are traded. Investigate this market. Note that the combination with storytelling and traceability is important here.
Identify the European countries which offer the best opportunities for your cocoa. Then find out which type of company buys your type of cocoa. Promising target markets include:
You will want to look for companies that are willing to develop long-term business relationships. This approach gives you the best chance of success in Europe.
- Read our study of Fine flavour cocoa.
- By identifying the other exporters on your target markets and to whom they are selling, you can get a good idea of who the market players are.
- Take a look at our study of doing business with European buyers of cocoa.
- Visit our website for more market information from the European cocoa sector.
If you focus on the premium, speciality or fine flavour market segments, direct trade is the preferred channel. Try to find speciality bean-to-bar makers, chocolate stores, chocolatiers or bakeries on your target markets.
Check out the websites of chocolate makers and cocoa processors in Europe (large and small). This strategy is a good way of finding out where they buy their cocoa and what kind of cocoa they use.
- Find out which from which market channels you can choose when looking for buyers in Europe.
Once you have defined your product, your buyer profile and your preferred market channel, it is time to look for buyers. A good place to start is in your existing business network. If you already process your products locally, for example, ask your processor(s) with whom they work. Try and expand your network this way. Personal recommendations work well.
- Contact European companies that are based in your country (see Tip 11).
- Look for certification bodies, product associations and cocoa magazines that list companies in the cocoa sector online. See, for example, the websites of ICCO, Eurococoa or Cocoamerchants.
- Incentives work well when working with partners. If a sale goes ahead, you can suggest sharing the extra margin with the local processor who helped you to find the buyer.
Visit the websites of international sector associations such as:
- International Cocoa Organization (ICCO);
- Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC);
- European Cocoa Association (ECA).
Some of these associations provide member lists, which could include potential clients. They also provide a lot of relevant information about the worldwide and European cocoa market.
Also visit the websites of national associations, such as the Royal Belgian Association of the Chocolate, Praline, Biscuit and Confectionary Industry (Choprabisco). Choprabisco has published a list of Belgian praline and chocolate companies.
Have a look at the website of the Vereniging voor de Bakkerij- en Zoetwarenindustrie (VBZ), which represents Dutch companies producing and selling bakery and confectionary products. On their website, you can find a member list, which includes many different companies working with cocoa.
- Consider becoming part of a trade association. This strategy lends you credibility and helps you to build up your network.
Your country’s embassy on your target market(s) could help you to find potential buyers and or identify the competition. It usually has a commercial attaché to help you with your enquiries.
- To find out whether your country has an embassy in your target country, go to the Embassy Worldwide website.
Trade directories are a very good source of finding potential buyers. Search for cocoa products in these directories, study what buyers and sellers of cocoa products similar to yours do. Consider using sales platforms to sell your product online. Examples of such trade directories are:
Alibaba allows you to list products (such as cocoa beans) for free. The advantage is that buyers can actively contact you. Have a look at the Alibaba list of cocoa bean suppliers.
Trade fairs provide an excellent opportunity to meet potential customers. Visit or exhibit at trade fairs. Interesting trade fairs are:
Meeting buyers face to face is essential for building trust and for sharing information as well as experiences. But make sure that you prepare your trade fair visit thoroughly by:
- reviewing the exhibitors list;
- selecting companies that are relevant to your buyer profile;
- asking the sales representative at the booth for their buyer’s (purchaser’s) contact details;
- convincing them about the advantages that your company can offer;
- bringing samples.
- Contact local export promotion agencies (for example, ProColombia, ProEcuador) for trade fair support. This support can be both financial and practical in nature.
- Do not limit yourself to talking with potential buyers only. Network with sector associations and trade promotion organisations.
- If you cannot visit trade fairs, at least have a look at the list of participants and exhibitors that they offer.
There are over 100 cocoa groups on LinkedIn; for example, the Cocoa Trading Network and Organic – Fair Trade Cocoa Beans. Use these groups to find contacts and potential buyers. Being an active member in a group on LinkedIn is a good way to engage in the global cocoa sector.
Embassies, trade promotion agencies and chambers of commerce often organise matchmaking programmes and trade missions. The organisers of these missions have strong relationships with businesses on your target markets. They can help you to identify, screen and meet prospective buyers.
Find a matchmaking programmes and/or trade mission in your sector. Have a look online at, for example, the Matchmaking Facility (aiming to stimulate business relationships between entrepreneurs from developing countries and Dutch entrepreneurs).
- Contact the embassy or trade promotion organisation in your country to see what kind of matchmaking facilities they can offer you.
Communication and confidence are key to doing business. So you need to be confident about what you are selling and the information that you send to your potential buyers needs to be clear. Make sure that you are well prepared and:
- call or email potential buyers;
- send emails directly to the names of purchasers/buyers that you have collected;
- write a good introduction about your company;
- contact buyers in the run-up to trade fairs;
- use the trade fair as a reason for contacting them;
- invite buyers to meet you at a trade fair;
- have samples prepared – interested buyers will ask you to bring samples and data to the fair.
This approach will give you the confidence that you need and it will give your potential buyers confidence in what you do.
- Take your time to find the right buyer, with whom you feel comfortable working.
- Keep your emails short, relevant and concise.
- Consider hiring a sales representative or agent if it makes you feel more comfortable. Although working with a sales representative or an agent can be very effective, selecting the right one is crucial. If you decide to hire an international sales representative or agent, make sure that you select one who has an established network of bean buyers or chocolate makers.
- If you lack confidence communicating in English, do so in your own language and consider using the services of a professional interpreter or translator.
- Try to avoid miscommunication at all times.
- Offer to send interested buyers a sample of your product. Make sure that you keep track of which sample you sent to which company. Send a sample of 1 kilogram, so it is easy for your potential buyer to test it and make sure that you keep 1 kilogram of the sample yourself as well.
Investing in online marketing is the best way of helping buyers to find you. You can do so with your own website. You can build an unique image through, for example, a website.
Building a simple website to promote your product is a great way of creating an online presence for you company. Include:
- information on your cocoa varieties;
- the history of your farm;
- the story behind your products;
- photos of the farmers, the plantations, and so on.
Give regular updates on your cocoa farm and/or cocoa product on social media; for example, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Tell the world your story and inform people of what you are doing. It is quite likely that consumers will also see your online profiles, as traceability is a strong trend for cocoa products in Europe and an increasing number of chocolate makers mention the source of their cocoa on the product wrapping.
Research options for generating visitors to your website. One way of doing so is with search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is a strategy that helps you to be found using online search engines. Minor changes to your website can positively impact your position on the search result lists, for example.
- See these steps to a Google-friendly site and see the European Commission website for information about optimising your website for search listings.
Please review our market information disclaimer.