May 18, 2015 / 3:39 PM / 3 years ago

French chocolate maker Cemoi's Ivory Coast plant targets W.Africa

ABIDJAN, May 18 (Reuters) - French chocolatier Cemoi opened a factory in Ivory Coast on Monday with the capacity to produce around 10,000 tonnes of chocolate products annually as it targets West Africa’s growing middle class consumer market.

Ivory Coast, already the world’s top grower of cocoa beans, is on track to overtake the Netherlands this year as the leading grinding hub. However, most cocoa is still exported in bean form or as semi-finished products, while the majority of chocolate found on shop shelves is imported from abroad.

With consumption declining in Europe due to the economic downturn, according to industry data, chocolate makers are on the lookout for new markets for their products.

“We’re targeting the local market, then progressively we will expand to the sub-region,” Tristan Borne, Cemoi’s managing director, told journalists at the facility’s opening in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Ivory Coast, with its 23 million inhabitants, is French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy and has registered growth of around 9 percent since the end of a decade-long political crisis in 2011.

Family-owned Cemoi, which has invested more than 40 billion CFA francs ($69 million) in its Ivory Coast facilities since it opened its grinding operation in 1996, spent 6 million euros ($7 million) on the chocolate factory.

“We have buying capacity of 120,000 tonnes of beans and grinding capacity of 70,000 tonnes, including the 10,000 tonnes of chocolate per year,” Borne said.

Cemoi began marketing some of its products in Ivory Coast in 2013. Borne said the Abidjan factory would initially produce cocoa powder and chocolate spreads before moving onto producing tablets.

Ivory Coast currently processes around a third of its cocoa production locally, most of it into semi-finished products like cocoa butter and powder.

“The government’s objective is to process at least 50 percent by 2020,” Industry and Mines Minister Jean-Claude Brou said at the factory’s opening.

He said Ivory Coast’s 12 grinding facilities processed nearly 570,000 tonnes of beans in 2014, up more than 20 percent from the previous year.

($1 = 578.0900 CFA francs)

$1 = 0.8814 euros Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Joe Bavier and James Macharia

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