(Adds comment in paragraphs 4-7)
European cocoa grindings decreased 0.1% on the year during the first quarter of 2012, to 353,311 metric tons, figures from the European Cocoa Association showed Friday.
Indeed, the new data reveal the first year-on-year fall in grindings for a quarter since the final three months of 2009-10.
Cocoa grindings in Europe--a key measure of demand for the chocolate ingredient--had run sharply ahead of the previous year throughout most of 2011, before growth tailed off in the final quarter.
"European grind data was probably a bit better than a lot of cocoa manufacturers and processors expected, with the consensus expectation being a bit weaker than the final figure," said Jonathan Parkman, co-head of Agriculture Commodities at Marex Spectron.
"However, it is very foolhardy to take the European grind number as a proxy for what is going on in the world. Despite being a large part of the global grind, the figure by no means tells you what's going on everywhere," he added.
The brokerage's analysis of major grinding areas, which account for around 75% of global demand, suggests that total grind for the first quarter of 2012 increased by approximately 3% compared with the same quarter of the previous year.
However, with North American grind data for the first quarter due for publication on April 19, Parkman said the market is expecting a slightly negative release, with grindings likely to be unchanged or lower. The region's data are always important as they cover a large geographic area, he added.
The ECA said it had upwardly revised its estimate for the fourth quarter of 2011 by 435 tons to 349,790 tons, following corrected figures submitted by one or more reportees.
The ECA accounts for around two-thirds of European cocoa grindings. ECA grinding members are ADM Cocoa, a unit of Archer Daniels Midland Co. (>> Archer Daniels Midland Company); Barry Callebaut AG (>> Barry Callebaut AG); Delfi Cocoa Europe, a division of Petra Foods Ltd. (P34.SG); ECOM/Dutch Cocoa; Gerkens Cacao, a unit of Cargill Inc; and Nederland.
Bean processors are Cioccolato Peyrano, Euromar, Ferrero SPA, Fuchs & Hoffmann, Hachez, Herza, Icam, Kessko, Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT), Ludwig, Majani, Natra, Nestle SA (NESN.VX), Schokinag, Schwartauer Werke, Storck, Weinrich and Toms.
-By Michael Haddon, Dow Jones Newswires; 4420-7842-9289; [email protected]