The global trade of chocolate accounted for US$26.2 billion during 2016. That same year, the largest importer and exporter of chocolate was Europe. Countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Luxembourg are the world’s largest importers of raw cocoa beans and exporters of processed chocolate foodstuffs. In 2016, Germany exported 16% or US$4.3 billion of the world’s chocolate, while Belgium and Luxembourg exported 12% or US$3 billion of all chocolate exports.
Global Chocolate Markets and Processing Centers
Chocolate comes from the bean of the cocoa plant, which is endemic to Latin America. However, by the 1600s, European explorers had already discovered the sweet uses of the bean and had spread the cacao tree throughout the world. Today, cacao trees and cocoa beans are an agricultural commodity grown in tropical climates, such as West Africa and Southeast Asia. During 2016, Africa accounted for 75% or US$7.6 billion of the world’s cocoa bean exports, followed by South America with some 9.5% or US$966 million. Throughout the last several years, the total production of cocoa beans worldwide has exceeded 4.5 million metric tons annually. Furthermore, the world’s largest cocoa bean producer, the Ivory Coast, has dominated more than 35% of the global market with an annual average of 1.3 million metric tons of beans. In terms of cocoa bean output, the Ivory Coast is followed by Ghana, Nigeria, Ecuador, and Cameroon, which together account for the vast majority of global exports.
Nevertheless, cocoa beans are not processed into chocolate in the countries where the commodity is grown. Rather cocoa beans are exported to and processed in Europe or North America. The value-added process of chocolate creation has for centuries been a profitable market dominated by a handful of producing countries, notably Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, and the United States. In fact, none of the ten largest chocolate candy producers, which dominate 70% of this consumer good market, is itself a producer of cocoa beans.
The world’s largest exporter of chocolate as a consumer good is the European Union, followed by the United States. During 2016, the United States exported 6.0% or US$1.6 billion worth of chocolate goods. Furthermore, the US, Mexico, and Canada are each other’s major trading partners within the consumer chocolate market, through major candy manufacturers, such as Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars, Cargill, and Cadbury, amongst others. At the same time, the fastest growing markets for US-made and North American-made chocolate products are located in Asia Pacific, particularly the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Overall, global cocoa bean production has increased fourfold since 1960. This substantial increase demonstrates not only an increase in the regions and areas devoted to growing cacao trees, but also the growth within the consumer market for chocolate products.