UPDATE 2-North American cocoa grind sees first drop in two years
(Adds milestone to paragraph 1, background)
By Marcy Nicholson
NEW YORK Jan 15 (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindings fell for the first time in two years, a strong sign that higher chocolate prices have begun to curb consumers' appetites for the sweet treat.
The drop is smaller than in Europe, the world's biggest cocoa processing region, as it continues to struggle through a financial crisis.
North American cocoa grindings for the fourth quarter of 2014 fell 1.95 percent year-on-year to 122,886 tonnes, according to data from the National Confectioners Association on Thursday.
That brought full-year grindings to 521,657 tonnes, up 2.4 percent from 2013 and the highest since the data pool was expanded to include Mexico and Canada in 2009.
The results, which are considered a gauge of demand for chocolate's key ingredient, are in line with estimates that ranged widely from 4 percent lower to 2 percent higher.
The lower quarterly processing data came as higher chocolate prices reached store shelves after chocolate makers such as Hershey Co and Mars Chocolate North America raised their prices due to soaring costs for cocoa, milk and nuts in 2014.
Earlier in the day, Europe's fourth-quarter cocoa grind was reported down 7.4 percent from the same period last year to 323,061 tonnes, its lowest fourth-quarter grind since 2005. Continued...