The company aims to triple its sales in the Chinese market in the next three years to €28m ($37m).
It expects consumer demand in Asia to initially favor Belgian and French chocolates, but thinks the market will gradually develop a taste for countlines and spreads.
The new sales office opened in Hong Kong on Wednesday 3 April and will serve Asia-Pacific markets.
“China is the first target market due to its significant growth opportunities,” said the company in a statement.
Low consumption; big population
“Chocolate consumption is now awakening in this market, especially due to the development of large foreign retail chains in the country and the increasing purchasing power of the population,” said Natra.
The Chinese don’t eat much chocolate, but the shear population size makes it an exciting prospect.
According to Natra, China has an annual chocolate consumption of 100 grams per person, compared to 8 kilos per person in Western Europe.
The Chinese middle class is expected to comprise 340m people by 2016 – that’s nearing the total Western European population, middle class or otherwise, which amounts to around 397m.
Natra said the office would allow it to better spot trends in flavors, textures and packaging and would help it form closer business relationships with key customers in the market.
The firm’s chocolate business is split into two segments. The consumer goods division produces finished chocolate products such as countlines, tablets and pralines for private label clients, while the industrial goods division sells ingredients such as cocoa powder and butter and chocolate coatings to manufacturers.
The company said its consumer goods division is already present in the top five retail chains in China.
China and Korea have been tipped as future growth markets for its industrial product division, following previous success in Japan for over 25 years.
Natra in numbers
Natra’s overall cocoa and chocolate activities outside Europe grew 47.5% to €64m from 2011 to 2012 and now account for 20% of total sales.
Asia-Pacific countries make up 18% of export sales, a rise of 18% over the previous year.
In June 2012, Natra signed a Belgian chocolate supply contract in China with an unnamed distributor that it said would boost sales in the market by 70%.
At the time, Natra head of investor relations and communications Glòria Folch told this site that production would remain in Europe, mainly to keep Belgian chocolate authentic, but a big sales boom could change matters.