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Exporting cocoa beans to the Netherlands

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The Netherlands is the world’s main importer of cocoa beans and home to the second-largest cocoa grinding industry, after only the Ivory Coast. The Netherlands imports around 85% of its cocoa beans from West Africa, primarily as 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.

1 . Product description

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 to 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.

2 . What makes the Netherlands an interesting market for cocoa?

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, Dutch consumers increasingly demand high-quality chocolate and are willing to pay more for it. Chocolate has become a luxury treat. 

The Netherlands has several Dutch 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, they are commonly UTZ- and Fairtrade-certified and 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

The Netherlands is the main importer of cocoa beans in Europe, reaching 991,000 tonnes in 2017, valued at € 2.2 billion. While imports remained stable around 650 thousand tonnes from 2012 to 2014, they increased significantly between 2015 and 2017. Import volumes in the 2013–2017 period grew at an annual average rate of +12%.

The Netherlands has the world’s second-largest cocoa bean grinding activities, behind Ivory Coast. The cocoa-grinding industry in the Netherlands has consumed an estimated 565,000 tonnes of cocoa beans between 2016 and 2017. The European cocoa-grinding industry continues to grow, especially in the Netherlands. At the same time, processing in producing countries such as the Ivory Coast is also growing, mainly as part of cost-reduction strategies by large-scale multinationals.

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. Dutch companies such as Daarnhouwer and Tradin Organic (Crown of Holland) also have large-scale processing activities in the Netherlands and play an important role in both importing and processing activities for cocoa.


  • 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 increasing, and the Netherlands remains an important trade hub

Up until 2016, the Netherlands was the largest exporter of cocoa beans in Europe. The Netherlands is now second, after Belgium, which became the main European exporter of cocoa beans in 2017, with 237,000 tonnes. Dutch exports increased slightly in the last five years with an annual increase of +1.8% in volume. The country has a market share of 47% in total European re-exports.

Germany is by far the most important destination of Dutch re-exports, with a market share of 67% in 2017. Dutch re-exports to Germany decreased at an annual average rate of -2.5% in volume between 2013 and 2017.

While Dutch re-exports of cocoa beans have been just slightly increasing, Dutch exports of semi-finished chocolate products have increased significantly in recent years.


  • 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 in 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.

A popular  chocolate brand in the Netherlands at the moment is  Tony’s Chocolonely. They offer chocolate bars with a range of ingredient combinations. The brand combines its fight 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.

While the Netherlands is not famous for its gourmet chocolate shops, there are several high-end chocolate shops in the larger cities, such as Cacao, De Bonte Koe, De Lelie and Chocolaterie Pierre.


  • 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 chapter about quality requirements below to learn more.
  • Want to get 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 becoming mainstream

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 free from 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 certifiers. Both UTZ and Fairtrade originated in the Netherlands. UTZ and Rainforest Alliance have merged in 2017 to form a single standard and auditing process for certificate holders. The new single standard will be launched in 2019.

Especially the demand of fair trade products is growing significantly. The demand of fair trade chocolate is 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. The Netherlands is the seventh largest organic market in the EU with an estimated value of over € 1.5 billion in 2017. Within the chocolate market specifically, examples of Dutch organic chocolate brands include Chocolatemakers and Lovechock.


  • See our study on buyer requirements for the cocoa sector to learn more about certification schemes.
  • Try to combine audits in case 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 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 this label has sufficient demand 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

3 . What requirements must cocoa comply with to be allowed on the market in the Netherlands?

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.

Legal requirements

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 (though 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 like volcanic activity and forest fires.

Quality criteria

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.


Labelling requirements

The label on cocoa exported to the Netherlands should be written in English. The label should include the following topics:

  • product name
  • grade
  • 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 contain the name/code of the inspection body and certification number

Figure 2: An example of labelling

Source: Caribbean Agricultural Network

Packaging requirements

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 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 / speciality cocoa segment, jute bags are still commonly used. For very high-quality microlots 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
cocoa_in_the_netherlands_-_figure_3a_-_example_of_packaging_for_cocoa_beans_-_osu.edu_.jpg  cocoa_in_the_netherlands_-_figure_3b_-_example_of_packaging_for_cocoa_beans_-_bls.bulk_.com_.jpg  cocoa_in_the_netherlands_-_figure_3c_-_example_of_packaging_for_cocoa_beans_-_grainpro.jpg

Sources:, and GrainPro


Additional requirements

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 emphasizing 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. Several traders and manufacturers operating in the Netherlands feature on the UTZ list of certified cocoa supply chain actors. Rainforest Alliance is also present on the Dutch market, mainly as the German retailer Lidl.

Requirements for niche markets

The Netherlands represents an important market for organic-certified cocoa products in Europe, yet behind countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Both small-scale chocolatiers and larger chocolate makers in the Netherlands offer organic-certified chocolates, but the organic market remains small and 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.

4 . What competition do you face on the Dutch cocoa market?

West Africa remains the largest supplying region to the Netherlands.

The Netherlands imported around 85% of its cocoa beans from West Africa in 2017. Around 57% of all imports in 2017 came from Ivory Coast and Nigeria, who are — together with Ghana — the largest producers of Forastero cocoa beans in the world (mainstream market). Other important suppliers include Ghana, with 11.8% market share in 2017, and Cameroon with 11.7%.

Ivory Coast and Nigeria both saw increases in exports to the Netherlands in the 2013–2017 period. Supplies from Ghana remained stable in this same period.

Supplies from Latin America are increasing

Latin American countries supply around 6% of the beans imported by the Netherlands. Imports from these countries are growing rapidly. Ecuador was the main Latin American supplier in 2017 with a volume of 361,000 tonnes. Colombia is growing fastest, at an annual rate of +87% between 2013 and 2017. Imports from Ecuador (+33%) and Peru (+16%) 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 Ecuador in 2017 was 3.6%, while those of Peru (1.2%), the Dominican Republic (1.2%) and Colombia (0.2%) 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).

5 . Through what channels can you get cocoa on the Dutch market? Which market segments to 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:

Chocolate confectionery

The chocolate confectionery sector in the Netherlands is very concentrated with a few large companies dominating the sector. The largest players in the confectionery industry in 2017 are Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Hershey and Ferrero.

Retailers like Albert Heijn and Jumbo are important for mass products of big brands, but are also increasingly offering premium chocolate products as well.

Examples of specialised shops in the Netherlands are:

The Netherlands also has famous Belgian and Swiss chocolate shops, such as Leonidas and Lindt, respectively.

Food industry

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.

Cosmetics industry

The sales of cosmetics in the Netherlands grew strongly 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.

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 market will vary according to the quality of your cocoa beans, your supply capacities and business model. The following channels can be used to access the market:

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 the Crown of Holland. The 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 (the 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. Examples are 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 do 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 country of origin (Ecuador).
  • Use industry associations to find potential buyers in the Netherlands. One example is the Association of Bakery Goods and Sweets (VBZ).

Table 1: Indication of consumer prices of chocolate per market segment in the Netherlands

Market segment



Price per 100 grams

Upper end

Original Beans

Cusco Chuncho 100%, Mighty Dark

Cacao, Sacred Cusco Valley, Peru

€ 6.41


Dark chocolate, organic certified,

single origin: Ecuador

€ 5.70



Dark chocolate, 80% cocoa, organic

certified, single origin: Ecuador

€ 3.89

Market segment



Price per 100 grams

Middle range


Dark chocolate, 92% cocoa, organic


€ 2.86


Dark chocolate, 80% cocoa,

organic and fair trade certified

€ 2.39


Dark chocolate, 85% cocoa

€ 1.69



Dark chocolate, 70% cocoa, fair trade


€ 1.53

Market segment



Price per 100 grams

Lower end


Dark chocolate, 75% cocoa, UTZ


€ 1.43

Albert Heijn

Dark chocolate, 72% cocoa, organic


€ 1.29


Dark chocolate, 58% cocoa

€ 0.99

Kit Kat

Chocolate bar with biscuit

€ 0.99

Chateau (Aldi)

Dark chocolate, 50% cocoa

€ 0.50

Source: Ekoplaza, Albert Heijn and Aldi

The price breakdown for chocolate is illustrated in figure 6.

Be aware 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


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