Exporting cocoa beans to Switzerland
Switzerland is famous for its chocolate. The country has a reputation for high-quality chocolate, with many renowned international brands, including Lindt and Toblerone. Swiss consumers have one of the highest per capita rates of chocolate consumption worldwide. The opportunities in premium products (specialty, fine flavour and certified chocolate) are growing significantly. Within this segment, the preferred channel is direct trade with smaller traders, specialty chocolate stores, chocolatiers or bakeries.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- What makes Switzerland an interesting market for cocoa?
- Organic and fair-trade markets keep on growing
- With which requirements must cocoa comply to be allowed on the market in Switzerland?
- What competition do you face on the Swiss cocoa market?
- Which channels can you use to put cocoa on the Swiss market?
- What are the end-market prices for cocoa?
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cocoa) grows in tropical areas between 15 and 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator, in 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 Switzerland) 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 fruity 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 grows in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. Criollo makes up 5–10% 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.
Switzerland remains one of the largest per capita consumers of chocolate
Switzerland is one of the top consumers of chocolate in the world. In 2016, Swiss consumption per capita was 8.59 kg. This makes Switzerland the second largest consumer of chocolate in Europe, after the United Kingdom (at 8.61 kg per capita). According to the Guardian, Swiss consumers spent around €211 per person on chocolate in 2015.
Between 2015 and 2016, per capita consumption in Switzerland decreased slightly by 3%. This trend in declining demand has been apparent for the last few years. However, Switzerland remains an important consumer as well as chocolate exporter.
- See our study on trends for cocoa to learn more about consumer trends in Europe.
- Access the website of Festichoc, the chocolate festival and trade fair in Switzerland, for a list of exhibiting companies, news items, innovations and other interesting aspects of the Swiss and international speciality chocolate market.
Switzerland remains the eighth-largest European importer of cocoa beans
Switzerland is the number 8 in the top European importers of cocoa beans, importing 39 thousand tonnes in 2016 (€114 million). Imports of cocoa beans have remained quite stable over the past five years (2012–2016).
Switzerland is the eighth largest cocoa grinder in Europe, after larger grinders such as the Netherlands and Germany. It is estimated that Switzerland ground around 40 thousand tonnes of cocoa beans in 2016.
The grinding industry in Switzerland is dominated by a few large (multinational) grinders, including:
- Access the Eurostat Statistics Database to analyse European trade dynamics yourself and to design your export strategy. Identify interesting importing countries and developments such as the emergence of new suppliers and decline of established ones.
Switzerland plays a small role in cocoa bean re-exports but a large role in exports of chocolate products.
In 2016, Switzerland continued to play a relatively small role in the re-exports of cocoa beans, since the country processes almost all of its imported beans for the manufacture of its own chocolates. Most cocoa beans re-exports went to France (210 tonnes) and the Netherlands (81 tonnes). Re-exports of cocoa beans have been relatively stable over the last few years.
Switzerland is an important exporter of chocolate, at 36 thousand tonnes of chocolate in 2016. Swiss chocolate is famous for its chocolate processing techniques, such as the use of 5-roll refining machines, favoured for milk chocolate manufacturing.
- Check the website of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) for more information about main grinding spots in the world.
Swiss consumers demand high-quality, premium products
In Switzerland, the premium chocolate segment is experiencing much higher growth rates than the mass-market segment. Major Swiss players such as Lindt & Sprüngli, Migros and Nestlé are expected to continue launching new premium chocolate products in the upcoming years.
Swiss chocolate is famous for its high quality. Swiss chocolate-making standards are among the highest in the world. Switzerland has legislation and an industry-wide agreement on the designation of “Swiss chocolate”. This description can only be used for ready-conched chocolate or chocolate entirely manufactured in Switzerland. However, the cocoa beans, cocoa mass and cocoa butter can be sourced from another country. In addition, the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers “Chocosuisse” has developed several technical guidelines to keep the standard of Swiss chocolate high.
There are several famous gourmet chocolate shops in Switzerland. Well-known shops include Studler Chocolatier, Teuscher, Max Chocolatier and Gysi. Another example is the company mySwissChocolate, which offers its customers the possibility to create their own bars online with more than 450 different combination options.
- Focus on the premium, specialty, and fine flavour cocoa market in Switzerland. You can only access the premium cocoa market if you offer cocoa beans of high-quality standard. See the chapter about quality requirements below to learn more.
- Want to get premium cocoa on the Swiss 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 debate generates public-private initiatives in Switzerland
The Swiss market for sustainable chocolate has been growing in recent years. The country follows the European trend as described in our study covering 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.
The Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa was launched July 2017. The initiative was developed by Chocosuisse, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), and the non-governmental organisations Swisscontact and Helvetas. Key actors in the sector have signed the platform’s Declaration of Intent. One of the main elements of the Declaration of Intent is the goal that 80% of cocoa imports have sustainable production sources by 2025. The platform will also focus on creating a dialogue between the local authorities and organisations in the producing countries.
Besides multi-party initiatives, several chocolate companies based in Switzerland have also committed to sustainability in their company statements, including:
- 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 Organization. For specific information about Switzerland, have a look at the website of Chocosuisse.
Switzerland sees an increase in sustainability labels on the chocolate market, in line with public-private initiatives and growing consumer awareness. The consumption of fair-trade and organic certified chocolate is quite high in Switzerland.
In 2015, Swiss per capita consumption of both organic (€262) and fair-trade (€57.70) products (including chocolate) was the highest in the world. In that same year, the total market share of organic products reached 7.7% and of fair-trade products 1.5%. Between 2014 and 2015, the Swiss organic market increased by an average of 5.2%, while its fair-trade market increased by 9.0%.
Examples of Swiss chocolate brands or chocolatiers with fair-trade and/or organic chocolate include Stella Bernrain, Durig Gysi and Maestrani. Specialised organic and/or fair-trade traders in Switzerland are Pronatec, Minka SCS and Walter Matter.
- 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. 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) there is sufficient demand the label in question in your target market and whether it will be cost-beneficial for your product.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), but a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). To facilitate free trade with the European Union, Switzerland has adapted the Swiss food law to a large extent to European law. The European Union legislation is therefore given as the basis below.
In our study on buyer requirements for cocoa you can find a detailed analysis of these requirements.
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 cacao from some Latin American countries due to factors such as volcanic activity and forest fires.
If you want to access the Swiss 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 ensure 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 bulk packaging should include the following topics:
- product name
- lot or batch code
- country of origin
- net weight in kg.
If 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.
Some buyers in Switzerland request additional 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 Swiss chocolate market such as Lindt & Sprüngli, Nestlé and Barry Callebaut 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 are less popular in Switzerland compared to other European markets. The larger retailers in Switzerland such as Migros and Coop are not registered on the UTZ list of registered cocoa supply chain actors. Some large chocolate manufacturers are registered, such as Barry Callebaut and Nestlé, while Lindt & Sprüngli is not. Rainforest Alliance is also present on the Swiss market, through the large retailer Lidl as well as through international brands like Magnum and Cornetto.
Requirements for niche markets
Switzerland is one of the main markets for organic and fair-trade products in Europe. The country has the highest per capita consumption worldwide of both organic and fair-trade products:
- Both small-scale chocolatiers and larger chocolate makers in Switzerland offer organic-certified chocolates.
- Fair-trade chocolate is offered by different companies in the Swiss market. Consult the list of operators on the website of FLOCERT (select “Cocoa” and “Switzerland”) for more information.
- 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.
- Be aware that potential buyers may request additional food safety guarantees from you. Make sure to discuss with your potential buyer what would be feasible for you, and where you might need help.
- See our study on certified cocoa for more information about the demand on the European market, trends and specific trade channels.
- Before engaging in a fair-trade certification programme, make sure to check (in consultation with your potential buyer) whether there is sufficient demand for the label in question in your target market and whether it will be cost-beneficial for your product.
Ghana remains the main supplier of cocoa beans to Switzerland
Almost all (99%) of Swiss imports of cocoa beans in 2016 were sourced directly from producing countries. Nearly 60% of these imports came from Ghana, one of the largest producers of Forastero cocoa beans worldwide (mainstream market). Imports from Ghana remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2016.
Imports from Ivory Coast have been relatively low compared to other European countries, but decreased further between 2012 and 2016 at an annual average rate of 23% in volume. Imports from Madagascar are growing; between 2012 and 2016 imports increased at an annual average of 75% in volume. The increase in cocoa exports from Madagascar could be due to increasing demand of fine flavour cocoa; 100% of cocoa bean exports from Madagascar correspond to fine flavour varieties.
Ecuador is an important Latin American supplier to Switzerland
Switzerland has opportunities for smaller suppliers outside of the mainstream market. Latin America plays a significant role in Swiss imports of cocoa beans. Around 30% of total imports from producing countries was sourced in Latin America in 2016. Ecuador (25% of market share) was by far the most important supplier in 2016. Other smaller suppliers are Peru (1.8%) and Venezuela (1.3%).
As much as 75% of Ecuador’s cocoa exports are fine flavour cocoa beans 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. 75% of Peruvian cocoa bean exports are also fine flavour, compared to 100% of Venezuelan exports.
- 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, Pacari (Ecuador), Ingemann (Nicaragua) and Xoco Gourmet (Honduras).
Which market segments should you target?
In terms of segmentation and channels the Swiss 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 Swiss cocoa market are developing:
The chocolate industry in Switzerland reached a value of €1.6 million in 2016, at nearly 186 thousand tonnes. The most important product segments in Switzerland are:
- Chocolate bars (48.3% of the market in 2016)
- Chocolate candies and other confectionery (22.4%)
- Semi-finished cocoa products (18.8%)
- Mini-formats, such as Napolitains and chocolate hearts (6.0%)
- Other chocolate products, for example regarding annual festivities (4.5%).
In Switzerland, most chocolate is sold through supermarkets. Migros is the leading supermarket chain in Switzerland and offers a wide range of products, mainly private label, from economy to premium. Its most prominent private label is Frey, which sources its own cacao beans.
However, specialised chocolate shops also play an important role. Most of these speciality stores are small, family-owned businesses. Examples of specialised chocolate shops in Switzerland are:
Migros and Lindt & Sprüngli dominate chocolate confectionery in Switzerland. Together they had a market share of around 33% in 2016. Lindt & Sprüngli is the market leader in terms of premium quality chocolate.
The Swiss food industry is important for the Swiss economy. Especially chocolate plays a large role in the food industry. Companies producing biscuits, ice cream, pastries and other bakery products are some of the main users of cocoa products.
The cosmetics industry processes cocoa butter in products such as creams and soaps. The Swiss industry dominated by multinational brand manufacturers and its consumption is slowly declining. If you want to know more about the possible 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 Swiss market
The Port of Switzerland is the main entry point for cocoa beans. The port consists of three ports in the cantons of Basel-Country and Basel-City. It is connected via the Rhine with ocean ports such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam (the world’s largest import port for cocoa) and Antwerp.
While Switzerland is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers, it is not a major European cocoa bean importer. The country mainly imports cocoa butter, paste and powder from larger European cocoa bean processors, such as the Netherlands, Germany and France.
The domination of multinational players, such as Lindt & Sprüngli, Nestlé and Barry Callebaut, make the mainstream market very concentrated. However, the growing speciality cocoa market has possibilities for 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.
As an exporter, entering the Swiss 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 Swiss market. The main cocoa (commodity) trader in Switzerland is ECOM.
Companies mentioned above, such as Barry Callebaut and Lindt & Sprüngli, have integrated activities such as importing, crushing and manufacturing. These companies can also serve as a gateway to the market. However, they deal with larger volumes and standard qualities.
Switzerland also has importers which specialise in ethical products, including cocoa beans. They normally focus on specific organic and fair-trade markets. Examples of specialised Swiss importers are Pronatec, Minka SCS and Walter Matter. These importing companies work on projects with cocoa-producing cooperatives in origin countries.
If you want to enter the Swiss market, you can also target chocolate makers directly. This is recommended for producers and exporters dealing with fine flavour cocoa beans of a high quality. Switzerland has several chocolate makers, leading ones include Gysi, Max Chocolatier and Xocolatl.
- Want to meet potential buyers in Switzerland? Attend cocoa and chocolate industry events, such as Festichoc in Geneva.
- Check the website of the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers, Chocosuisse, find more information about Swiss cocoa traders.
- Use our study on how to find buyers on the European cocoa market to find your buyers.
- Be consistent, punctual and reliable. Swiss 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 any promises that you might not be able to fulfil. See our study on 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.
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.
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 price developments for cocoa beans on the international markets, such as the monthly price reviews published by the International Cocoa Organization.
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