Barry Callebaut sees gourmet tastes lifting chocolate demand

Wed Jan 15, 2014 5:35am EST
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By Caroline Copley

ZURICH (Reuters) - Demand for chocolate is picking up, boosted by strong sales of gourmet products, the world's biggest supplier to the industry said on Wednesday, as it blamed capacity constraints and a lull in outsourcing deals for slower growth in its sales volumes.

Barry Callebaut (BARN.S: Quote), which makes chocolate for the likes of Nestle NESN.VX and Mondelez (MDLZ.O: Quote), said on Wednesday consumers in the Americas in particular were flocking to premium chocolates.

That echoed comments from Swiss chocolate-maker Lindt & Spruengli LISP.S, which beat full-year sales forecasts on Tuesday.

Consumer trends consultant Nielsen has said the global chocolate market grew 3.4 percent in volume from September to November, accelerating from 1.1 percent in the same period the year before, as economies recover in Europe and North America.

Barry Callebaut, the world's largest maker of chocolate and cocoa products, said its sales jumped 21.4 percent by value in the quarter - the first of its financial year - to 1.52 billion Swiss francs ($1.7 billion), beating forecasts and helped by higher prices for cocoa beans, cocoa butter and milk powder.

However, its sales volumes rose 19.5 percent, below the 21.1 percent forecast by analysts, and excluding the Petra Foods business it bought in December 2012, volumes were up just 4.6 percent, down from 8.3 percent the same time the year before.

The Swiss-based company blamed the slowdown on a tough year-on-year comparison, as well as fewer new deals to make chocolate for third parties. Bottlenecks in western Europe also weighed on growth in the region, though it said these were being addressed.

J. Safra Sarasin analyst Patrick Hasenboehler said the company's volume growth was "slightly disappointing" and kept a "reduce" rating on the stock, citing a stretched valuation.   Continued...

A chocolate bar is seen at Barry Callebaut factory in Lebbeke September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman