WASHINGTON — Fourth-quarter cocoa bean grind data did little to allay concerns about sagging global cocoa and chocolate demand resulting from travel and restaurant restrictions due to COVID-19, with one arguable exception.
October-December 2020 cocoa bean grind was surprisingly up 7% from the same period a year earlier in North America, the National Confectioners Association recently reported. But that increase may be more of a statistical anomaly than surging demand, according to one analyst, and grind in other key regions declined, much as was expected.
Jeff Rasinski, with the Blommer Chocolate Co., said grind in the fourth quarter of 2019 was “easy to beat” and an additional processor was included in the 2020 data that was not in the 2019 report. Fourth-quarter 2020 grind of 118,043 tonnes looked good against 110,321 tonnes in October-December 2019, but the latter was the lowest for any quarter since April-May 2009.
Fourth-quarter grind in Europe, the largest chocolate-consuming region, was down 3.1% from a year earlier, while grind in Asia was down 4.2%, although the latter was compared with a very strong 2019 fourth quarter, Mr. Rasinski said. Annual grind was down 3.5% from 2019 in North America, down 3.9% in Europe and down 5% in Asia.
Globally, Mr. Rasinski said cocoa bean grind slightly exceeded expectations, which “bodes well for the year ahead.”
But COVID-19 is having a noticeable impact on chocolate demand, especially premium products that depend on travel (airports and hotels), at foodservice and at specialty boutiques. An indication that all things are not well with chocolate was news Godiva Chocolatier will close its retail stores and cafes in North America (128) by the end of March.
COVID-19 also has contributed to disarray on the production side.
Reuters and others reported that about 100,000 tonnes of cocoa beans, or about a third of monthly deliveries, were backlogged at Ivory Coast cooperatives and farms as the country’s regulatory board suspended registration of beans to reduce stockpiles for export. Some buyers in Europe and the United States asked that deliveries scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020 be delayed because export demand was lacking.
Adding to the challenges was the $400-per-tonne living income differential (LID) implemented Oct. 1 (on the 2020-21 crop) by the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together account for about 60% of global cocoa bean production. The LID, which is added to the sale price of cocoa beans in both countries, is intended to be passed on to poor West African farmers. The sustainability concept has broad support from the world’s major cocoa processors but failed to address the reality of the market — prices tend to fall when demand weakens.
Last week Reuters reported that the Ivory Coast’s domestic cocoa association, GNI, had petitioned the government’s cocoa regulator to implement reforms to end the dominance of multi-nationals in handling cocoa exports. GNI said six companies — Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Ecom, Olam, Sucden and Touton — dominate exports from the Ivory Coast and that major chocolate makers tend to buy exclusively from them at the expense of the companies represented by GNI.
New York cocoa bean futures have underperformed many other commodities since the first of the year, mostly due to ample supplies resulting from weaker demand and higher prices from the LID scheme, according to traders. Nearby cocoa bean futures were down slightly from the end of 2020, while the nearby world raw sugar future, for example, was up 5%.