KANSAS CITY — North American cocoa bean grindings in the January-March quarter increased 5.8% from the same period in 2012, surprising the trade after analysts had anticipated a decrease.

The National Confectioners Association said 125,887 tonnes of cocoa beans were ground at 17 North American plants in the first quarter of 2013, up 6,865 tonnes, or 5.8%, from 119,022 tonnes in the first quarter of 2012.

The trade expressed surprise at the number after analysts had anticipated grind 2% below the year-ago period. Fourth-quarter 2012 grind was up 1% from the corresponding quarter in 2011, but grind was below year-earlier periods in each of the first three quarters of 2012.

Earlier in the week the European Cocoa Association reported first-quarter cocoa bean grind at 339,337 tonnes, down 3.9% from the same period a year earlier. Grind in Europe was below year-earlier levels in each quarter of 2012, and was down 10.3% from 2011 for the full year.

Cocoa bean grind is seen as an indication of chocolate demand and consecutive quarters of increases over year-earlier quarters may indicate a recovery in demand that dropped off after the economic downturn in 2008, especially in Europe, the world’s largest per capita chocolate consumer. Some have questioned the accuracy of cocoa bean grind as a gage of chocolate demand, especially in Europe, because more processors have shifted operations to plants in countries of origin, such as in top-producing Ivory Coast.