Chocosuisse, the Swiss chocolate manufacturers' association which currently represents eighteen Swiss chocolate manufacturers, confirmed that levels of imported chocolate products had risen for the fourth year consecutively - representing just over a quarter of the total Swiss chocolate market (26 per cent).
In recent years Switzerland has seen a burgeoning trend for chocolate-based confectionery imports, mainly because their foreign alternatives are made from cheaper ingredients and can be bulk produced - enabling them to be sold on to consumers at a lower, more attractive, retail price.
But as a country independent of the EU's sweeping agricultural policy reforms, Swiss chocolate manufacturers will soon seek to capitalise on the abolition of single farm payments later this year - a move which will remove subsidies on fundamental chocolate ingredients (sugar, for instance) and open up the previously heavily protected EU confectionery and ingredients markets to external competition.
Swiss chocolatiers, however, already have an established exporting heritage, which last year accounted for more than half of Switzerland's annual chocolate sales.
According to Chocosuisse, exports in 2004 rose by more than 13.3 per cent to 52.9 per cent, notching up turnover of CHF551 million (€356 million). German export sales accounted for around 20 per cent of Switzerland's annual export production of 78,371 tons, while France and the UK managed slightly lower shares of 11 per cent each.
Meanwhile, the domestic Swiss chocolate market has shrugged off the adverse effects of yet another hot European summer, increasing value sales by 6.8 per cent to CHF814 million (€526 million) and taking production volumes to 69,845 tons.
Conversely, combined domestic and export sales have increased 9.3 per cent to CHF1.365 billion (€882 million) and production volumes to 148,216 tons - a 6.1 per cent increase on the previous year.
The industry association said that the Swiss population consumed an estimated 11.6 kg per person, per year (an increase of 0.3 kg per person, per year on 2003) - although this figure included sales of imported chocolate sales and also those eaten by tourists and cross-border consumers.
In keeping with the previous year's trend, standard chocolate tablets remained by far the most popular format for Swiss chocolate products, accounting for nearly 49.5 per cent of total sales - although chocolate-derived confectionery products and semi-finished product ingredients (cocoa powder, for instance) both increased sales volumes by 23 and 16.9 per cent respectively.