The heat wave which engulfed most of western Europe in July and August had a devastating effect on sales in Switzerland, one of the world's biggest producers of chocolate, but there was at least encouraging growth on export markets to offset the domestic declines.
According to Chocosuisse, the Swiss chocolate manufacturers' association, Switzerland's 17 chocolate manufacturing companies produced a total of 139,663 tons of chocolate during 2003, a 1.8 per cent drop compared to the previous year, while value sales dropped 2.4 per cent to SF1.25 billion.
The heat wave and subsequent reduction in tourist numbers (as traditional summer visitors swapped land-locked Switzerland for coastal regions in search of some respite from the heat) meant that for the first time, export sales exceeded domestic volumes in 2003, accounting for 51.1 per cent of production.
While domestic sale showed something of a recovery towards the end of the year, this was not enough to offset the summer decline, leaving total Swiss sales at 68,280 tons for the year, down 5.5 per cent compared to 2002. In value terms, sales were SF762 million, down 5.8 per cent.
Imported chocolates took advantage of the decline, and now account for 24.2 per cent of all Swiss sales, up from 22.7 per cent a year earlier. Domestic consumption also took a knock, dropping to 11.3 kg per capita in 2003, down 600g from 2002 and a whole kilogram from the record set in 2001.
White chocolate tablets were the only products to see an increase in major volume over the year, benefiting ironically from the hot weather and the subsequent lack of interest in thirst-inducing chocolate with a high cocoa content. Sales of white chocolate increased by 9.1 per cent during the year, while there smaller gains for semi-finished products and artisanal chocolates.
But it was the export business which saved the day for chocolate makers in 2003, although export growth slowed slightly compared to previous years. Volume sales in markets other than Switzerland were 71,383 tons, up 3.2 per cent compared to the previous year, while values sales of SF486 million rose by the same amount.
Pralines showed the biggest gains (14.2 per cent) over the year, although the most important sector remained standard chocolate tablets.
Germany was the biggest market for Swiss chocolate in 2003, taking 22 per cent of all value exports, followed by the UK with 12 per cent, France with 10 per cent and the US with 6 per cent.
North America in general, along with several Asian countries (Hong Kong, South Korea) and Argentina showed particularly good growth during the year. European markets were, however, also affected by the hot summer weather.