Exporting cocoa beans to the Netherlands
The Netherlands is the world’s main importer of cocoa beans and the second-largest cocoa grinder. This is thanks to its large cocoa-processing industry. The Netherlands imports around 85% of its cocoa beans from West Africa, primarily in the form of bulk cocoa. The demand for high-quality cocoa is small in comparison to the conventional market, but it is growing and attracting further interest in cocoa beans from Latin American countries. The focus on the high-quality segment also offers an opportunity for a closer relationship with buyers such as smaller Dutch traders or speciality chocolate makers.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- What makes the Netherlands an interesting market for cocoa?
- Sustainability is becoming mainstream
- With which requirements must cocoa comply to be allowed on the market in the Netherlands?
- What competition will you be facing on the Dutch cocoa market?
- Which channels can you use to put cocoa on the Dutch market?
- What are the end-market prices for cocoa in the Netherlands?
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cocoa) grows in tropical areas between 15 and 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator: 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 to 2 kg of dried seeds per year.
The international cocoa market (including the Netherlands) distinguishes three types of cocoa beans:
- Common grade: Forastero cocoa
Forastero was originally grown in the high Amazon region and is now the predominant cocoa variety cultivated mainly in Africa, accounting for around 80% of global cocoa production. The beans have a flatter flavour than the more frutal and citric Criollo and Trinitario beans.
- High-grade: Criollo cocoa (original cocoa tree)
Criollo was originally grown in Venezuela, Central America and Mexico, but is now also grown in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. Criollo makes up 5 to 10% of global cocoa production. The beans have a bitter, aromatic flavour and are easily processed.
- High-grade, Trinitario cocoa
Trinitario was originally grown in Trinidad, but 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 10–15% of 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 on semi-finished cocoa products in Europe.
The Netherlands has an annual chocolate consumption estimated at 4.7 kg per capita in 2014. The Dutch spent around €23 per capita on chocolate products in 2015. However, compared to other European countries, Dutch per capita consumption of chocolate is relatively low. Examples of larger European chocolate consumers are Switzerland (9 kg per capita) and Germany (7.9 kg per capita).
Increasing popularity of speciality chocolate in the Netherlands
According to trendwatchers in the Netherlands, the Dutch increasingly want high-quality chocolate and are willing to pay for this quality. Chocolate has become a luxury treat.
The Netherlands has several traditional chocolate products, such as chocolate letters during the “Sinterklaas” festivities in December and sprinkles (“hagelslag”) which they eat in combination with bread and butter. Although these chocolate products still largely concern bulk, specialty varieties are becoming more popular. In 2017, a specialty shop only selling chocolate sprinkles opened in the capital of the Netherlands.
- See the website of the Dutch Confectionary Industry Organisation for more information about the chocolate industry in the Netherlands.
- See the website of the European Cocoa Association for more information about the European and Dutch cocoa market and consumer preferences.
- See our study on trends for cocoa to learn more about consumer trends in Europe.
- Access the website of CHOCOA, a chocolate festival and trade fair in the Netherlands, to get a list of exhibiting companies, news items, innovations and other interesting aspects of the Dutch and international speciality chocolate market.
The Netherlands remains the largest European importer of cocoa beans thanks to its cocoa-grinding industry
The Netherlands is the main importer of cocoa beans in Europe, reaching 861 thousand tonnes in 2016 (€2.4 billion). While imports remained stable around 650 thousand tonnes from 2012 to 2014, they increased significantly in 2015 and 2016. Between 2012 and 2016, imports grew at an annual average of 6.0%.
The Netherlands is the world’s second-largest cocoa bean grinder, behind Ivory Coast. It is estimated that the cocoa-grinding industry in the Netherlands consumed around 545 thousand tonnes of cocoa beans in 2016. While processing in producing countries (such as Ivory Coast) is increasing, the European grinding industry, including the Netherlands, also continues to grow.
The large grinding industry in the Netherlands is attributed to the presence of large national and multinational grinders such as:
These companies have major grinding installations near the Port of Amsterdam, the largest cocoa port in the world.
- 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 decline of established ones.
- Have a look at the website of the Port of Amsterdam to learn more about the port itself and cocoa specific opportunities.
Dutch exports are declining, but the Netherlands remains an important trade hub
In 2016, the Netherlands lost its position as main exporter of cocoa beans. Belgium has now taken its place as main exporter, leading with 187 thousand tonnes in 2016. In 2016, the Netherlands exported 147 thousand tonnes of cocoa beans, with an annual decrease of 5.1% in volume between 2012 and 2016 . The country remains a large player with a market share of 41% in total European re-exports.
Germany is by far the most important destination of Dutch re-exports, with a market share of 74% in 2016. Dutch re-exports to Germany decreased at an annual average rate of 6.1% in volume between 2012 and 2016.
While Dutch re-exports of cocoa beans are declining, Dutch exports of (semi-finished) chocolate products increased significantly with 6% growth between 2014 and 2015.
- Refer to the Trade Helpdesk more information on Europe’s trade dynamics for cocoa beans. Investigate the opportunities to supply cocoa beans to countries Europe or elsewhere through the Netherlands.
Dutch consumers are increasingly interested in innovative flavour combinations and other premium chocolate products
In 2016, the trend for premium chocolate continued on the Dutch chocolate market. The Dutch are willing to pay a higher price for premium products and major brands are producing more speciality chocolate bars. Mainstream supermarkets now offer chocolate bars containing a range of premium ingredients, such as fruits and spices. Other ingredients that are used are brownies, fudge, popcorn and cookies.
One of the most famous chocolate brands in the Netherlands, Tony’s Chocolonely, offers chocolate bars with a range of ingredient combinations. The brand combines its campaign for slave-free chocolate and fair trade with chocolate bars using innovative flavour combinations. Another Dutch brand offering similar products is Johnny Doodle.
Mainstream Dutch chocolate brands are now launching chocolate bars with new flavour combinations, such as Delicata by Albert Heijn and Verkade. Albert Heijn’s Delicata line also focuses on specific origins, indicating the growing importance of this concept on the mainstream market.
- Focus on the premium, specialty, and fine flavour cocoa market in the Netherlands. 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.
- Want to put premium cocoa on the Dutch 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 on trends for cocoa to learn more about speciality cocoa on the European market.
Sustainability is important for the Dutch chocolate consumer. In 2016, 53% of consumers stated that they believe it is important to have a range of sustainable chocolate products available in their supermarkets. The production of chocolate without child labour or slavery as well as fair trade are the most important topics for consumers.
The most popular sustainability certifications on the Dutch chocolate market are UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade. Many Dutch mainstream brands are now certified by one of these certification bodies. Both UTZ and Fairtrade originated in the Netherlands. UTZ and Rainforest Alliance have announced their merger in 2017. This means that here will be a single auditing process for certificate holders. The new single standard will be launched in 2019.
The demand for fair trade products is especially growing significantly. The demand for fair trade chocolate is the highest among all fair-trade food products.
While organic certification is still a niche market for the chocolate industry, it is becoming more important in the food industry in general. Between 2014 and 2015, the Dutch organic food market increased by 12%. Small Dutch organic chocolate brands are Chocolatemakers and Lovechock,
- See our study on buyer requirements for the cocoa sector to learn more about certification schemes.
- 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.
- Promote sustainable and ethical aspects of your production process. Support these claims with certification. See our study on doing business with European buyers of cocoa for more tips on marketing and promotional aspects of your cocoa.
- Before engaging in a fair-trade certification programme, make sure to check (in consultation with your potential buyer) that there is sufficient demand for this label in your target market and whether it will be cost-beneficial for your product.
- Find potential business partners in the Netherlands by checking this list of Fairtrade-certified operators and this list of Dutch Rainforest Alliance-certified brands.
You can only export cocoa to the Netherlands if you comply with strict European Union requirements. In our study on buyer requirements for cocoa you can find a detailed analysis of these requirements. The highlights are given below, specified for the Dutch market when relevant.
You must follow the European Union legal requirements for 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 (although cocoa is considered low-risk) are the most common for cocoa beans.
It is also important to consider the 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.
If you want to access the Dutch 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
- Pods correctly harvested
- Good practices to keep the trees healthy and free of pests and 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 you only take the ripe fruits. During processing you should make sure all cocoa beans are fermented and dried homogenously. Cocoa beans should be shipped shortly after harvest because 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: less than 5% mould, less than 5% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter.
- Fairly fermented cocoa beans: less than 10% mould, less than 10% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter.
The label on cocoa exported to the Netherlands should be written in English. The label should include the following information:
- product name
- lot or batch code
- country of origin
- net weight in kg.
In the case your cocoa is organic or fair-trade certified, the labels should list the name/code of the inspection body and certification number.
Figure 2: An example of labelling
Source: Caribbean Agricultural Network
Cocoa beans are traditionally shipped in jute bags, which can weigh 60–65 kg.
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 fine flavour and speciality cocoa segment, jute bags are still commonly used. For very high-quality micro-lots vacuum-sealed GrainPro packaging can be used (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: 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 cocoa beans on the website of the International Cocoa Organization.
You can expect buyers in the Netherlands to request extra food safety guarantees from you. Examples are the implementation of good agricultural practices and quality management systems (QMS) regarding 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 environmental and social impacts of your company can provide you with a competitive advantage. Leading companies on the Dutch chocolate market, such as Nestlé and Mondelez, have sustainability policies emphasising the contact with producers, transparency in their operations, as well their social and environmental impact.
Certification standards like UTZ and Rainforest Alliance have also become important on the mainstream chocolate market. Ahold (Albert Heijn), Lidl and Jumbo are the main Dutch retailers registered on the UTZ list of registered cocoa supply chain actors, along with several traders and manufacturers operating in the Netherlands. Rainforest Alliance is also present on the Dutch market, mainly at the German retailer Lidl.
Requirements for niche markets
Along with the Germany and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands represents an important market for organic-certified cocoa products in Europe. Both small-scale chocolatiers and larger chocolate makers in the Netherlands offer organic-certified chocolates. But it remains a small market and only relevant as a niche opportunity.
Fairtrade is one of the main certifications for chocolate in the Netherlands, after UTZ and Rainforest Alliance. The Fairtrade segment has been growing significantly in the last years.
- Check the website of EURO-Lex for more detailed information about the regulations concerning cocoa products.
- 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.
West Africa remains the largest supplier to the Netherlands. The Netherlands imported around 85% of its cocoa beans from western Africa in 2016. Around 55% of all imports in 2016 came from Ivory Coast and Ghana, the largest producers of Forastero cocoa beans worldwide (mainstream market). Other important suppliers are Nigeria (14% of market share in 2016) and Cameroon (13%).
Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria all saw a small increase in exports to the Netherlands in 2012–2016. Supplies by Cameroon decreased slightly at an annual average of 0.7% between 2012 and 2016.
Supplies from Latin America are increasing
Latin American countries supply around 10% of the beans. Imports from these countries are growing rapidly. Peru is growing fastest, at an annual rate of 66% between 2012 and 2016. Imports from Ecuador (+28%) and the Dominican Republic (+13%) also increased significantly.
This increase is largely due to increased demand for premium/specialty/fine flavour cocoa, in some cases combined with certification. 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.
However, you should note that the market share of Latin American supplies is significantly smaller than those of West African suppliers. The market share of supplies from Peru in 2016 was 4%, while those of Ecuador (3%) and the Dominican Republic (2%) were even smaller.
- Identify your potential competitors and 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 should you target?
In terms of segmentation and channels the Dutch market does not deviate much from the European market, as described in our study on trade channels and segments for cocoa. This is how the three segments of the Dutch cocoa market are developing:
The chocolate confectionery sector in the Netherlands is very concentrated, with a few large companies dominating the sector. Mars remained the largest player in the confectionary industry in 2015. Mondelez and Nestlé are also important players.
Examples of specialised shops in the Netherlands are:
Cocoa products are also an important ingredient for the Dutch food industry. The Dutch food processing industry is valued at about €65 billion and employs about 135,000 people. The cocoa, chocolate and confectionary industry represents about 6% within the food industry in 2017. Companies producing biscuits, ice cream, pastries and other bakery products are some of the main users of cocoa products.
The sales of cosmetics in the Netherlands grew steadily in 2016. More and more Dutch consumers are interested in cosmetics with natural ingredients. The 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 on natural ingredients for cosmetics.
Which channels can you use to put cocoa on the market?
Figure 5: The main channels for export of cocoa beans to the Dutch market
The Netherlands is the most important entry point of cocoa beans worldwide. This is largely due to the port of Amsterdam, which is the largest cocoa port in the world.
The domination of multinational players, such as Cargill, ADM and ECOM Dutch Cocoa, and other companies such as Mars, make the mainstream Dutch cocoa market very concentrated. However, the expansion of the speciality cocoa market has opened possibilities to more specialised players operating in niche markets. This creates space for suppliers handling smaller volumes at higher qualities, as well as for more personal supplier-buyer relationships.
In the Netherlands, supermarkets represent the most important channel for the sale of chocolate products to consumers, representing around 68% of the sales market for chocolate products in 2015. Other smaller channels for chocolate products are:
- speciality shops (market share of 13% in 2015)
- department stores (4.0%)
- shops selling a large variety of different products, such as Blokker and Xenos (3.6%)
- pharmacies (3.1%)
- bakeries (2.4%)
- wholesalers (2.0%)
- other channels (3.6%).
As an exporter, entering the Dutch market will vary according to the quality of your cocoa beans, your supply capacities and business model. For exporters of cocoa beans in higher volumes and standard qualities, large importing companies can serve as a gateway into the Dutch market. Companies mentioned above, such as Cargill, ADM and ECOM, have integrated activities such as importing, crushing and manufacturing. However, they also deal with larger volumes and standard qualities.
Although the Netherlands has a very large grinding industry, there are only a few players that produce industrial chocolate: Cargill and Crown of Holland. Crown of Holland is specialised in the processing of organic cocoa.
The Netherlands also has importers which focus on specialised cocoa products:
- Dietz Cacao Trading is a trader of both industrial cocoa and chocolate products, focused on UTZ, organic and fair trade
- Daarnhouwer is an important trader of fine flavour cocoa
- Tradin is an important organic trader and processor of cocoa beans (Crown of Holland is part of their business).
If you want to enter the Dutch market, you can also target speciality chocolate stores and chocolate makers directly. This is recommended for producers and exporters dealing with fine flavour cocoa beans of a high quality, such as Zoen, Ananda, Visser Chocolade and the Chocolate Makers.
- Want to meet potential buyers in the Netherlands? Attend interesting trade events such as Chocoa and the Origin Chocolate Event. Attendance at such events can also provide you with additional insight into the preferences of Dutch buyers, with regard to origin, flavour and sustainability certification.
- Check the website of the European Cocoa Association to find more information about Dutch cocoa traders.
- Use our study on 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. Dutch consider these factors essential in doing business. That means you should reply in time to enquiries by possible buyers (within 48 hours). You should also be open and realistic and not make promises that you might not be able to fulfil. See our study on how to do doing business with European cocoa buyers for more information.
- See our study on market segments and channels for cocoa for more information about the European cocoa market.
- Check the website of the Federation of Cocoa Commerce to learn more about global cocoa traders, cocoa manufacturers, cocoa trade associations and other players in the global cocoa sector.
- Try to establish direct trade relationships with smaller Dutch traders, specialty chocolate stores, chocolatiers or bakeries. Some small companies already source fine flavour cocoa directly from producing countries, for example Zoen (Nicaragua and Honduras), Chocolate Makers (Dominican Republic and Congo), Lovechock (Ecuador) and Visser Chocolade (Tanzania). Others, such as Ananda Chocolate, have their organic bar made in the country of origin (Ecuador).
- Use industry associations to find potential buyers in the Netherlands, such as the Association of Bakery Goods and Sweets (VBZ).
Prices for chocolate can be segmented in lower end, middle 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 with a single origin. For more details about segmentation on the cocoa and chocolate markets, refer to our study on channels and segments.
Table 1: Indication of consumer prices of chocolate per market segment in the Netherlands
The price breakdown for chocolate is illustrated in Figure 6.
Note that 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. However, the largest shares are kept by chocolate companies and retailers.
Figure 6: Price breakdown for chocolate
Source: Cocoa Barometer, 2015
- Monitor end consumer prices of chocolate to get an idea on price ranges. Good sources for price information are the websites of supermarket chains, chocolate specialty stores and chocolate web shops, such as Chocoweb and Chocoladeverkopers.
- Monitor price developments for cocoa beans on the international markets. You can for example use the monthly price reviews published by the International Cocoa Organization.
Please review our market information disclaimer.
Follow us for the latest updates