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By Marcy Nicholson
NEW YORK, April 16 (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindings fell more than expected in the first quarter of 2015, dropping to levels not seen since 2012, National Confectioners Association data showed on Thursday, signaling a fall in demand for the key chocolate ingredient.
Cocoa processors in the United States, Mexico and Canada reported grinding 121,508 tonnes of beans in the first three months of this year, down 5.8 percent from the same period in 2014.
That is also down from expectations that bean grinding would be flat to 5 percent lower.
It was the second-straight weak quarter following two years of quarterly increases after large chocolate makers raised prices and as weak processing margins deterred grinding.
Cocoa grindings are considered a gauge of cocoa demand.
Earlier in the day, Europe’s first-quarter cocoa grind was reported down just 1.6 percent at 337,706 tonnes. That was above expectations and buoyed the price of cocoa futures <0#CC:> <0#LCC:>.
Focus is now turning to Asia, which has yet to report its quarterly grind data, though Malaysian grindings were reported earlier this week to be down 28 percent.
The weak data comes as the amount of processing done in West Africa, the world’s biggest producing region, increases. The International Cocoa Organization has forecast processing in West Africa will reach 877,000 tonnes in the 2014/15 crop year (October/September). That is up 2 percent from last year, while grindings are forecast to drop by 2 percent in the United States.
The 11 companies that took part in the North American survey are: ADM Cocoa, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Co, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate Co, ECOM, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co, Guittard Chocolate Co, Hershey Co, Mars Chocolate North America, Nestle Chocolate & Confections and World’s Finest Chocolate Inc. (Editing by Chris Reese; and Peter Galloway)