Exporting cocoa to France
France is one of the main markets for speciality chocolates in Europe. The French preference for dark chocolates is higher than the European average. French consumers also favour premium ingredients and high-quality cocoa, which reflects the gourmet tradition. Niche markets for organic and Fairtrade chocolates are also significant in France, and the two concepts are increasingly converging. The mainstream market is dominated by multinationals such as Barry Callebaut and Cargill, together with French companies such as Cémoi.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- What makes France an interesting market for cocoa?
- Which requirements must cocoa comply with to be allowed on the French market?
- What competition do you face on the French cocoa market?
- Through which channels can you get cocoa on the French market?
- What are the end-market prices for cocoa?
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cocoa) grows in tropical regions between 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 sun-dried. A cocoa producing tree can deliver on average 0.5–2 kg of dried seeds per year.
The international cocoa market (including France) distinguishes three types of cocoa beans:
- Forastero cocoa (common-grade)
Forastero was originally grown in the high Amazon region. It is now the predominant cocoa variety, cultivated mainly in Africa. It accounts for around 80% of all global cocoa production. The beans have a flatter flavour than the more fruity and citric Criollo and Trinitario beans.
- Criollo cocoa (original cocoa tree) (high-grade)
Criollo was originally grown in Venezuela, Central America and Mexico. It is now also grown in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. Criollo makes up 5% to 10% of all global cocoa production. The beans have a bitter, aromatic flavour and are easily processed.
- Trinitario cocoa (high-grade)
Trinitario was originally grown in Trinidad. It is now also grown in Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The beans are a hybrid of the Criollo and Forastero trees. This variety represents around 10% to 15% of all global cocoa production.
Harmonised System (HS) codes are used to classify products and to calculate international trade statistics, such as imports and exports. The focus is on cocoa beans of Harmonised System code 1801. Other cocoa products are covered in our study of semi-finished cocoa products in Europe.
France is seventh within Europe in terms of per capita chocolate consumption
France ranks seventh among other European countries in terms of per-capita consumption of chocolate, behind Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Finland. Each French inhabitant consumes an average of 6.7 kg of chocolate annually. In 2015, each consumer spent around €70 per person (US$ 79.70) on chocolate. In terms of purchase value per inhabitant, the largest consuming countries in Europe are Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
- Learn more about the French chocolate market via the publications, news items and updates provided by the French Syndicat du Chocolat.
- Check the latest facts and figures concerning the French chocolate market.
France is among the main European cocoa importers and grinders
France is the fourth-largest importer of cocoa beans in Europe, with 142,000 tonnes in 2017 (€351 million). Between 2013 and 2017, imports grew by 3.5% annually.
It is estimated that the cocoa-grinding industry in France consumed more than 145,000 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2016. This figure makes France the third-largest cocoa grinder in Europe, after the Netherlands and Germany. However, at 9%, the market share of France is significantly smaller than that of the Netherlands (34%) and Germany (26%).
The grinding industry in France is dominated by a few large multinational companies such as:
- Barry Callebaut
- Check the French exhibitors, news items, innovations and other interesting aspects of the French and international chocolate market on the website of the Salon du Chocolat (Paris).
- Access the Eurostat Statistics Database to analyse European trade dynamics yourself and to build your export strategy. Identify interesting importing countries and developments such as the emergence of new suppliers and the decline of established ones.
French supplies to other European countries have been declining
In 2017, France was the sixth-largest re-exporter of cocoa beans in Europe. France has a market share of 0.1% in the total European re-exports. While French exports of cocoa beans were fluctuating at a volume of around 4,000 tonnes in the last years, a significant drop was observed in 2016. In 2017, the country exported 677 tonnes of cocoa beans, representing a significant annual decrease of 33% in volume between 2013 and 2017.
The Netherlands, Italy and Belgium were the main destinations for French re-exports of cocoa beans, together accounting for 81% of these re-exports. According to the data, re-exports to these countries declined as they started to import more cocoa beans directly from producing countries. This fact is especially true for the Netherlands and Germany. Re-exports to Germany saw a significant annual decrease of 69% in volume between 2013 and 2017.
- Refer to the Trade Helpdesk for more information on Europe’s trade dynamics for cocoa beans. Investigate the opportunities to supply cocoa beans to countries within Europe or elsewhere through France.
French consumers value gourmet products, influencing the specialty cocoa market
French consumers are increasingly looking for speciality chocolates, especially dark chocolate in combination with other premium ingredients.
French chocolate consumers increasingly buy tablets containing premium ingredients, such as fruits, seeds or special flavours. In addition, consumers increasingly prefer dark chocolate to other chocolate flavours. The rise in the consumption of high-quality and dark chocolates reflects the French market for luxury items. Specialised and artisanal chocolate makers have adapted to this market by offering gourmet and personalised options to consumers, such as shapes, fillings and even the couverture used.
The focus on cocoa origin has also become more important on the high-end chocolate market in France. Most high-end brands offer a line of single-origin chocolates. Companies such as Bonnat Chocolatier and Chocolaterie A. Morin have gone further and developed direct trade relationships with their suppliers in producing countries (both companies are members of Direct Cacao, an organisation focusing on direct trade).
- Focus on the premium, speciality and fine flavour cocoa market in France. You can only access the premium cocoa market if you offer cocoa of high quality standards. See the section on “Quality requirements” below to learn more.
- If you want to get premium cocoa on the French market, try to establish direct trade relationships with smaller traders and chocolate makers. See the section on market segments and trade channels below for more information.
- See our study of trends for cocoa to learn more about speciality cocoa on the European market.
Sustainability debate generates public-private initiatives in France
The French market for sustainable chocolate has been growing in recent years. The country follows the European trend as described in our study of trends on the European cocoa market. While the sustainability debate generates changes within the operation of companies, it also allows for partnerships at the government level.
One of the most remarkable examples on the French market is the partnership between chocolate company Cémoi and the Coffee-Cocoa Board in Ivory Coast. The goal of this agreement is to plant 1.5 million extra cocoa trees to combat deforestation and climate change, and thereby safeguard the livelihoods of cocoa-producing communities.
In 2014, the French chocolate industry, in partnership with Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), the French Development Agency and the Ivorian government, signed an agreement to support the creation of an origin label for Ivorian cocoa. The label was launched in 2016 in Abidjan, with the intent to improve social, economic and environmental aspects of the cocoa value chain in Ivory Coast.
- Investigate potential partnerships between your country and export markets. See how these can benefit producers and exporters of cocoa beans. Keep an eye on the latest news on the website of the International Cocoa Organisation.
Organic and Fairtrade are growing rapidly
France sees an increase in sustainability labels on the chocolate market, in line with the public-private initiatives that we have mentioned and growing consumer awareness. Rainforest Alliance (which merged with UTZ in January 2018) is an important label for multinational brands and large retailers operating on the French market (see the section on market requirements).
Within niche markets, Organic and Fairtrade certifications show signs of increase and convergence. For example, the organic chocolate market in France grew by 21% between 2015 and 2016. The popularisation of organic products such as chocolate has been linked to price accessibility. Companies such as Chocolats Castelain have profited in recent years with the launch of organic chocolate lines.
The market for Fairtrade certified products grew at a rate of 72% in France between 2012 and 2015. This segment accounts for a very small share of the chocolate market in France, but it relies on established companies operating on the ethical market. Examples are Ethiquable, Alter Eco, Kaoka, Saveurs & Nature and Artisans du Monde.
- See our study of buyer requirements for the cocoa sector to learn more about certification schemes.
- Try to combine audits if you have more than one certification. In this way, you can save time and money. Also investigate the possibilities for group certification with other producers and exporters in your region.
- Promote sustainable and ethical aspects of your production process. Support these claims with certification. See our study of doing business with European buyers of cocoa for more tips on the marketing and promotional aspects of your cocoa.
- Before engaging in a Fairtrade certification programme, make sure to check (in consultation with your potential buyer) whether this label has sufficient demand on your target market and whether it will be cost-beneficial for your product.
You can only export cocoa to France if you comply with strict European requirements. In our study of buyer requirements for cocoa, you can find a detailed analysis of these requirements. The highlights are given below, specified for the French market when relevant.
You must follow the European legal requirements applicable to cocoa, mainly dealing with food safety. Traceability and hygiene are the most important themes. Special attention should be given to specific sources of contamination. Pesticides, mycotoxins (ochratoxin A is of special relevance for cocoa), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and microbiological contamination such as salmonella (though cocoa is considered a low risk) are the most common for cocoa beans.
It is also important to consider contamination from heavy metals during production and handling, particularly cadmium. The presence of cadmium is a particular problem for cocoa from some Latin American countries due to factors such as volcanic activity and forest fires. The European Union has strengthened its regulation on cadmium in cocoa and derived products. The new regulation came into effect as of January 2019.
If you want to access the French market for cocoa beans, you will have to meet international quality standards. They are particularly high within the speciality segment for fine flavour cocoa beans.
Cocoa of Excellence mentions the following factors defining the quality of cocoa:
- good trees (genetics);
- well cared for and grown in a suitable environment;
- correctly harvested pods;
- good practices to keep the trees healthy and free from pests or diseases;
- optimum fermentation and drying protocols specific to the type of beans;
- know-how for processing cocoa beans and for chocolate making.
High-grade (fine flavour) cocoa beans are generally of higher quality than common-grade cocoa beans, as their distinctive flavour is popular among 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. Common-grade (bulk) cocoa beans for mass production are genetically derived from Forastero trees.
Harvesting and processing techniques are also important in harnessing the “fine” qualities of fine flavour cocoa beans. During harvesting, you should make sure that you only take the ripe fruits. During processing, you should make sure that all cocoa beans are fermented and dried homogenously. 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.
To moderate the initially bitter cocoa flavour and to develop the typical cocoa flavour, the beans are fermented. Cocoa grading differs across producing and consuming countries. Standard practices have been set by the international cocoa trade associations. The grading of cocoa depends on the fermentation process:
- well-fermented cocoa beans, with less than 5% mould, less than 5% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter;
- fairly well-fermented cocoa beans, with less than 10% mould, less than 10% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter.
The label on cocoa exported to France should be written in French or English. The label should include the following topics:
- product name
- lot or batch code
- country of origin
- net weight in kg
If your cocoa is Organic or Fairtrade certified, the labels should contain the name/code of the inspection body and certification number.
Figure 3: An example of labelling
Source: Caribbean Agricultural Network
Cocoa beans are traditionally shipped in jute bags which can weigh between 60 and 65 kg.
On the mainstream market, bulk shipment of cocoa beans has become more popular. This process means that cocoa beans are loaded directly into the ship’s cargo hold or in shipping containers containing a flexi-bag (see Figure 4). This mega-bulk method is often adopted by larger cocoa processors, which handle cocoa beans of standard qualities.
In the fine flavour/speciality cocoa segment, jute bags are still commonly used. For very high-quality micro-lots, vacuum-sealed GrainPro packaging can be used (also see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Examples of packaging for cocoa beans – jute bag, container-sized flexi bag and GrainPro
Sources: Osu.edu, Bls.bulk.com and GrainPro
- Read more about trading and shipping of cocoa beans on the website of the International Cocoa Organisation.
You can expect French buyers to request extra food safety guarantees from you. Examples are the implementation of good agricultural practices and Quality Management Systems (QMS) for the production and handling processes.
The main standards in good agricultural practices are provided by GLOBALG.A.P. They are voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural production processes that provide safe and traceable products.
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. Some buyers will also expect you to have certificates such as International Featured Standards: Food (IFS) or British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Corporate responsibility and sustainability are growing in importance in the cocoa sector. Adopting codes of conduct or sustainability policies related to the environmental and social impact of your company can provide you with a competitive advantage. Leading companies on the French chocolate market such as Cémoi and Valrhona have sustainability policies emphasising their contacts with producers, transparency in their operations, as well their social and environmental impact.
Certification according to standards such as Rainforest Alliance (which merged with UTZ in January 2018) has also become important on the mainstream chocolate market. Both Rainforest Alliance and UTZ run in parallel until the publication of a single new program at the end of 2019. The Carrefour Group is the main French retailer registered on the UTZ list of actors in the cocoa supply chain, along with several traders and manufacturers operating in France. Rainforest Alliance is also present on the French market, mainly through international brands such as Magnum, Cornetto and Côte d’Or or German retailer Lidl. French chocolate manufacturer Cémoi also endorses both UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certifications.
Requirements for niche markets
France represents an important market for Organic certified cocoa and cocoa products in Europe (along with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany). Both small-scale chocolatiers and larger chocolate makers in France offer Organic certified chocolates. It is a very small market and is only relevant as a niche opportunity.
France also figures among the most important markets for Fairtrade certified cocoa in Europe. In 2014, French purchases of Fairtrade certified cocoa beans reached 1,326 tonnes (behind Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland). One third of these Fairtrade cocoa beans were also Organic certified, illustrating the relatively large market for double certification. As such, Fairtrade certification (possibly together with Organic certification) could be a requirement of companies operating in niche markets. Consult the list of operators on the website of FLOCERT (select “Cocoa” and “France”) to explore these different companies.
- 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 of certified cocoa for more information about the demand on the European market, trends and specific trade channels.
- Before engaging in a Fairtrade certification programme, make sure to check (in consultation with your potential buyer) whether this label has sufficient demand on your target market and whether it will be cost-beneficial for your product.
Ivory Coast and Ghana are the main countries of origin for the French bulk market.
Around 67% of French imports of cocoa beans in 2017 were sourced directly from producing countries. Nearly 93% of these imports came from Ghana and Ivory Coast, the largest producers of Forastero cocoa beans worldwide (mainstream market). Imports from Ghana underwent an annual decline of 8.8% between 2013 and 2017, while imports from Ivory Coast experienced a significant annual growth of 10%.
Madagascar saw a significant increase in its exports to France in the 2013–2017 period (at an average annual rate of 7.9%). All of Madagascar’s exports of cocoa beans are classified as fine flavour cocoa. In 2017, Madagascar accounted for around 2% of the total French imports of cocoa beans sourced directly from producing countries.
Ecuador and the Dominican Republic are the main Latin American suppliers
France has opportunities for smaller suppliers outside of the mainstream market. Latin America plays a significant role in French imports of cocoa beans, but in different volumes when compared to west and central Africa. Around 5.2% of the total imports from producing countries were sourced in Central and Latin America in 2017. Ecuador (3.5%) and the Dominican Republic (0.6%) were the most important suppliers.
As much as 75% of Ecuador’s cocoa exports are fine flavour cocoa beans (40% in the case of the Dominican Republic) of Trinitario and Criollo varieties. Ecuador also supplies cocoa Arriba (Nacional), considered to be Forastero type but catering for the fine flavour market due to its floral and fruity aromas.
Imports from Ecuador saw a small annual increase between 2013 and 2017 (by 2.3% in volume), while imports from the Dominican Republican increased at an average annual rate of 9.0% between 2013 and 2017 (by 14% annually in volume). Imports from Peru have grown by nearly 6.6% annually since 2013.
France has a strong dependence on European trade hubs
Around 67% of French imports of cocoa beans in 2017 were sourced directly from producing countries, while the remaining 33% were sourced from other European countries. The main intermediary countries supplying cocoa beans to France in 2017 were Belgium (76% of indirect supplies) and the Netherlands (17%).
- Identify your potential competitors. Learn from them in terms of marketing (website, social media, trade fair participation), product characteristics (origin, quality, oil content) and value addition (certifications and processing techniques). Well-structured websites where you can learn from your competitors are, for example, Ingemann (Nicaragua) and Xoco Gourmet (Honduras).
Which market segments to target?
In terms of segmentation and channels, the French market does not deviate much from the European market as described in our study of trade channels and segments for cocoa. The French cocoa sector is divided into three segments:
The chocolate confectionery industry in France reached a value of €3.3 billion in 2017, at nearly 379,000 tonnes. Chocolate tablets are the main category in the French chocolate market, accounting for 33% of total sales volume in 2017.
Around 80% of the chocolate is sold through supermarkets and other large retailers, whereas 20% is sold through specialised chocolate shops. In France, 10% of all chocolate is consumed during Christmas. Each French household consumes around 1.56 kg of chocolate in that period.
Examples of specialised shops in France are:
Ferrero was the leading player in 2016 for chocolate confectionery in France, followed by Lindt & Sprüngli and Mondelez. Other large-scale companies and multinationals producing chocolate in France are Cémoi, Valrhona, Nestlé and Mars.
The French chocolate industry employs more than 30,000 people in around 80 companies. About 90% of these companies are small and medium-sized (in number of employees). Some of these companies are (along with several artisanal chocolatiers):
In France, cocoa products are also an important ingredient for the food industry. Companies producing biscuits, ice cream, pastries and other bakery products are some of the main users of cocoa products. Chocolate couverture is the main product demanded in the industrial market, followed by cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
France is also a global leader in the production and exports of cosmetics products. The French cosmetics industry processes cocoa butter in products such as creams and soaps. If you want to know more about opportunities in this industry, refer to our study of Natural ingredients for cosmetics.
Through which channels can you get cocoa on the market?
Figure 6: Main channels for export of cocoa beans to the French market
France is a traditional player on the European cocoa market. The ports of Le Havre and Rouen provide the main entry point for cocoa beans imported into France, operating as the service cluster HAROPA.
Cargill and Barry Callebaut (Cacao Barry), two of the largest players in the cocoa-processing industry, have trading and processing activities in HAROPA port complex. Cargill, for example, processes around 40,000 tonnes of cocoa annually near Rouen. Apart from processing activities, Barry Callebaut has its research and innovation centre in this region. Barry Callebaut serves multinational clients such as Unilever, as well as several chocolatiers in France (such as Lenôtre) and Europe.
The dominance of multinational players such as Cargill, Barry Callebaut and other companies such as Ferrero, Lindt, Nestlé, Mars, Valrhona and Cémoi in France make the mainstream market very concentrated. However, the expansion of the speciality cocoa market has opened possibilities to more specialised players operating in niche markets. This trend creates space for suppliers handling smaller volumes at higher qualities, as well as for more personal supplier-buyer relationships.
As an exporter, entering the French market will depend on the quality of your cocoa beans, your supply capacities and your business model.
For exporters of cocoa beans in higher volumes and standard qualities, large importing companies can serve as a gateway to the French market. Some of the main cocoa commodity traders in France are Touton (one of the largest cocoa traders worldwide), Sucres et Denrées and Louis Dreyfus.
Companies mentioned above such as Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Valrhona and Cémoi have integrated activities such as importing, crushing and manufacturing. These companies can serve as a gateway to the market. However, they also deal with larger volumes and standard qualities. Their activities include the production of industrial chocolate, thus catering for clients both in the chocolate industry and in other food industries.
France also has importers which specialise in ethical products, including cocoa beans. These importers normally focus on specific organic and Fairtrade markets. Examples of specialised French importers are Ethiquable, Alter Eco, Kaoka, Saveurs & Nature and Artisans du Monde. These importing companies work on projects with cocoa-producing cooperatives in the countries of origin. They sell chocolate products under their own label on the French and other European markets.
If you want to enter the French market, you can also target chocolate makers directly. This approach is recommended for producers and exporters dealing with fine flavour cocoa beans of a high quality. France has several chocolate makers; some of the leading ones are Chocolat Bonnat, Jean-Paul Hevin and La Maison du Chocolat.
Several chocolatiers which started from small establishments such as Monbana, Bonnar, Pralus and Michel Cluizel are now part of a large industry for artisanal chocolate in France. Several other small-scale artisanal chocolate makers are listed on the members list of the association of artisanal chocolate makers Confédération des Chocolatiers et Confiseurs de France.
- Check out the websites of sectors associations such as the Confédération des Chocolatiers et Confiseurs de France and L’Alliance 7 – Syndicat du Chocolat. Get in touch with their member companies and learn more about the French chocolate-making sector. The members list of the association of artisanal chocolate makers Confédération des Chocolatiers et Confiseurs de France can also give you an insight into more specialised buyers dealing with higher qualities and small volumes. Make sure to approach smaller chocolate makers in French. Enlist professional assistance to translate your emails if necessary.
- Check the website of Bean&Bar for more bean-to-bar makers active on this niche market (France-based and others).
- Attend cocoa and chocolate industry events in France to meet potential buyers. The most renowned event is Salon du Chocolat. Next to finding potential clients, going to these events will help you to gain more insight into buyer preferences; for instance, on origin, flavour, and sustainability standards and certification.
- Use our study of how to find buyers on the European cocoa market and the website of the Federation of Cocoa Commerce to find your buyers.
- Be consistent, punctual and reliable. The French consider these factors essential in doing business. This fact means that you must reply in time to enquiries by possible buyers (within 48 hours). You also have to be open and realistic, and avoid making promises that you might not be able to fulfil. See our study of how to do business with European cocoa buyers for more information.
- See our study of market segments and channels for cocoa for more information about the European cocoa market.
Prices for chocolate can be segmented into lower-end, mid-range and upper-end. In general, the lower-end chocolate products are often of standard quality and are the cheapest on the market. The upper-end products are chocolate products of high quality, made with fine flavour beans and possibly from a single origin. For more details about segmentation on the cocoa and chocolate markets, refer to our study of channels and segments.
Table 1: Indication of consumer prices of chocolate per market segment in France
The price breakdown for chocolate is illustrated in Figure 7.
Be aware that the export prices for 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. However, the largest shares are kept by chocolate companies and retailers.
Figure 7: Price breakdown for chocolate
Source: Cocoa Barometer, 2015
- Monitor consumer prices for chocolate on the French market to obtain an indication of price ranges. Good sources for price information are websites of supermarket chains, chocolate speciality stores and chocolate web shops. Examples are Chocolat Only, Nutri Naturel, Weiss (web shops for high-quality chocolate products) and Shoptimise France for an overview of chocolate prices in French supermarkets.
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