Switzerland is well known for many things - cuckoo clocks, cheese, banks - but one of its products above all others had a tough year in 2002. According to the latest figures from the Chocosuisse industry association, chocolate sales in Switzerland declined last year, due mainly to hot summer weather and a decline in tourist numbers.
While overall sales of Swiss chocolate increased in 2002, the growth was driven entirely by exports, despite the continuing strength of the Swiss franc. Domestic sales, meanwhile, fell by 3 per cent in both volume and value terms.
Chocosuisse said that total volume sales by the 17 Swiss chocolate producers reached 142,186 tons, up just 0.7 per cent compared to the previous year and that thanks only to the 4.7 per cent hike in export volumes. In value terms, sales were virtually unchanged at SF1.3 billion.
The situation in Switzerland could have been even worse, Chocosuisse said, if not for a strong fourth quarter, driven by a number of innovative chocolate products for the Christmas period. Total volume sales in Switzerland reached 73,048 tons, down 2.8 per cent, giving revenues of SF809 million, down 2.3 per cent.
The rise in export sales was welcome not only because it offset declines at home but also because it marked a recovery after a weak end to the previous year. Volumes sold outside Switzerland in 2002 reached 69,138 tons, pushing up value sales by 3.7 per cent to SF470 million.
Not surprisingly given its position as the number one chocolate market in Europe, the UK was one of the biggest importers of Swiss chocolate in 2002, although the British taste for chocolate with a lower cocoa butter content is perhaps the main reason why exports there - 12 per cent of the total value sales - are nearly half those to Germany (24 per cent), where tastes are more in line with the Swiss market.
France was the third market, with 11 per cent of total sales, while the US was fourth with 6 per cent. There was strong demand in northern European markets (where chocolate taste is perhaps more in line with that of the UK), with Finland, Norway and Sweden all showing excellent sales growth during 2002. Central and Eastern European markets also showed solid growth.
In contrast, there was a decline in sales to Asia, the Middle East and the US.
Tablets accounted for the vast majority of chocolate sales in 2002 - 48.4 per cent - followed by chocolate-based sweets with 22.9 per cent, semi-finished products with 17.8 per cent and what Chocosuisse calls 'small format' chocolates with 5.8 per cent. The remainder of the market (5.1 per cent) was taken up by miscellaneous products.
For 2003, Chocosuisse said it hoped to see a recovery in both the Swiss and export markets, driven primarily by a return to more normal tourist numbers. Export sales are likely to be driven by premium products, especially following the signing of a free trade agreement with the EU, the main market for Swiss chocolate.