People need chocolate in a recession, Hotel Chocolat CEO says

LONDON (Reuters) – British chocolate company Hotel Chocolat is preparing for a very busy Christmas period, confident that people turn to chocolate and treats to help lift their spirits in a recession.

But in a sign of caution given the tough economic environment, chief executive Angus Thirlwell said it was too early to provide an annual financial forecast for the group due to the return of pre-pandemic shopping habits which are more last minute.

“We’re finding that people need chocolate,” Thirlwell said in an interview on Thursday. “We’ve seen this in other recessionary times before, for example 2008, we were very resilient then.”

The company will provide an update in January.

It earlier posted an underlying profit before tax and exceptional costs of 21.7 million pounds for its latest financial year, more than double the previous 12 months, helped by growing hot chocolate machine subscriptions.

After the previous two December shopping periods were disrupted by the pandemic, Thirlwell said British shoppers were enjoying being out and about in stores, which have accounted for about 70% of the group’s sales in the last six months.

“The trajectory that we’re on is that momentum is building and building,” Thirlwell said of his expectations for Christmas.

Hotel Chocolat has more than 100 stores in Britain and a chocolate factory in Cambridgeshire, eastern England.

Rising household bills in Britain have seen consumers in supermarkets trading down to cheaper brands, but Thirlwell said it was different for a specialist retailer.

People still want to treat themselves and buy presents for others, he said, and Hotel Chocolat offered affordable luxury with 80% of its range priced at less than 15 pounds.

As a British-based manufacturer he said he was much more worried about inflationary pressures, such as higher energy bills for his factory, than the demand outlook.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Ivory Coast completes second shipping container terminal

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast has completed construction of a second container terminal at its main port in Abidjan, paving the way for it to become a regional shipping hub, officials said late on Friday.

Port authorities said the project cost about 596 billion CFA francs ($953 million) and was 85% financed by China’s Eximbank and 15% by the Ivorian state.

It is a joint venture between France’s Bollore and APM Terminals, part of Denmark-based company A.P. Moeller-Maersk.

The port in Abidjan already serves Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy and the world’s top cocoa producer, and is also a gateway for landlocked nations to the north.

The new container terminal will be able to receive large ships from Asia, Europe and America that previously had to land goods in South Africa, transferring them to smaller ships to reach West Africa. It started operations on Nov. 1 but was officially unveiled at a press conference on Friday.

“We are no longer a second port. We are becoming a hub,” said Andre N’Doli, technical director of the terminal, called Cote d’Ivoire Terminal (CIT).

“In addition to national traffic, we will handle traffic from other ports that cannot accomodate large vessels,” he told reporters.

The terminal is expected to allow Abidjan to increase container traffic to 3 million TEU containers from 1.2 million TEU containers per year, port authorities said.

($1 = 625.5000 CFA francs)

(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly, Editing by Nellie Peyton, Kirsten Donovan)

Ghana at high risk of debt distress, finance minister says

By Christian Akorlie and Cooper Inveen

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana will freeze the hiring of public and civil servants and extend a moratorium on government car purchases and non-essential travel in order to tackle a spiralling debt crisis, finance minister Ken Ofori-Atta said on Thursday.

Presenting the West African nation’s 2023 budget in parliament, Ofori-Atta said Ghana was at high risk of debt distress and has agreed on a debt management strategy with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Ofori-Atta did not offer any cuts to spending on flagship programmes, however, and detailed a range of wider infrastructure and social investment.

The minister is negotiating a relief package with the IMF as the cocoa, gold, and oil-producing nation faces its worst economic crisis in a generation.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley said on Thursday that it expected Ghana to restructure both its domestic and external debt.

“The current debt sustainability analysis conducted reveals that Ghana is now considered to be in high risk of debt distress,” Ofori-Atta told lawmakers.

“The government and the IMF have agreed on programme objectives, a preliminary fiscal adjustment path, debt strategy and financing required for the programme,” he said, adding he hopes to reach a deal “very soon”.

He said the depreciation of the cedi was “seriously affecting” Ghana’s ability to manage its public debt, which has increased to $48.9 billion this year.

Ghana will implement a debt exchange programme to address the challenges, he added.

“The good news is that all revenue measures are in line with what the IMF would have wanted,” said Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered.

“Now we await details of the debt exchange plan. So far – as favourable as might have been hoped.”

BAN USE OF GAS-GUZZLERS

Ofori-Atta outlined a number of measures that will enable the government to cut expenditure and boost revenue including a 2.5 percentage point increase in value added tax to 15%, a freeze on new tax waivers for foreign companies and a review of tax exemptions for free zone, mining, oil and gas companies.

Despite the projected increase in revenue, Ofori-Atta said the fiscal budget would increase to 7.7% of GDP from 6.6% over the coming year.

The government will also ban the use of V8 and V6 engine vehicles and extend a 50% reduction on fuel allocations and a ban on non-essential travel.

“It has become even more urgent to mobilise domestic revenue especially in times like this when our access to the international capital market is largely closed,” he said.

Ghana’s economic growth is expected to slow to 3.7% in 2022 from 6.7% last year, and to 2.8% in 2023, he said.

Ofori-Atta has faced calls for his dismissal from both the ruling party and opposition who accuse him of economic mismanagement. Last week he apologised for the country’s economic hardship but defended himself against their claims.

Ghana will impose a debt limit on non-concessional financing among other reforms, and will focus on using monetary policy to control inflation, which has exceeded 40%, the minister said.

($1 = 14.0000 Ghanian cedi)

(Reporting by Cooper Inveen and Christian Akorlie in Accra; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Bate Felix; Editing by James Macharia Chege, Kirsten Donovan)

Chocolate maker Barry Callebaut’s counts the cost of factory shutdown

By John Revill

ZURICH (Reuters) -Barry Callebaut reported a drop in full-year operating profit as the world’s biggest chocolate maker counted the cost of the temporary shutdown of its largest factory following a salmonella outbreak.

The Swiss company, which supplies chocolate to food groups such as Unilever for its Magnum ice creams and Nestle, said operating profit fell 2.3% to 553.5 million Swiss francs ($557.6 million), missing analyst forecasts of 586.5 million francs.

The figure was hit by the one-off impact of 76.9 million francs related to the salmonella outbreak at the Wieze factory in Belgium detected in June.

Sales volumes were also affected by the shutdown, with full-year volumes increasing to 2.3 million tonnes. The 5.3% increase represented a slowdown from the 7.9% increase during the first nine months of the year.

Despite the disruption, volume growth was within the range of Barry Callebaut’s mid-term guidance for increases of 5% to 7%. But it missed its goal of raising its operating profit in local currencies at a higher level than volumes, with only a 0.1% increase.

Its shares were up 0.5% on the Swiss exchange.

Chief Executive Peter Boone said the chocolate maker was still on track to achieve its mid-term guidance in its 2022-2023 business year.

“Our Wieze factory runs again at normal capacity, though we will still experience an impact in the first quarter 2022/23 as we are catching up on delayed volume,” he said in a statement.

Barry Callebaut had been due to release its earnings on Wednesday, but published the figures early due to an “unforeseen event”.

During the year it wrestled with higher raw material costs which it managed to pass on to its customers.

Cocoa bean prices had increased by 4.2%, with shortages avoided due to large stocks built up from surpluses in previous years.

Sugar prices increased by 18.7%, due to a lower Brazilian crop, and by 56% in Europe as strong demand met lower production due to reduced farming and dry weather.

($1 = 0.9927 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Revill, Editing by Miranda Murray, Michael Shields and David Evans)

Barry Callebaut raises the bar in bid to redefine chocolate making

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – In a move it hopes will redefine the way chocolate is made, Swiss-based Barry Callebaut launched a new bar on Thursday, the fruit of more than 20 years of research into cocoa beans.

The world’s biggest chocolatier said its “second generation” chocolate will use around 50% less sugar than traditional chocolate thanks to a new way of cultivating, fermenting and roasting cocoa beans that reduces their bitter taste.

The product, which will also use about 60-80% more cocoa, is likely to appeal to more health-conscious consumers and get ahead of laws expected to limit sugar consumption in the future, analysts said.

“Anything cutting sugar or using simpler, cleaner, recipes is going to be a positive given consumer and thus corporate demand for those products,” said Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox.

The chocolate giant, which supplies the world’s biggest consumer brands including Nestle, said its new chocolate has been tested by independent global research agency MMR in the United States, Britain and China, and found to have high consumer appeal.

“By applying the (new chocolate-making) principle, Barry Callebaut could redefine chocolate completely: ‘putting cocoa first, sugar last’,” the company said in a statement on the product launch.

The innovation could eventually help increase global cocoa consumption and prices should it be widely adopted, while it might leave sugar consumption largely unscathed as sugar cane is increasingly used to make ethanol, industry experts said.

“For cocoa, (it’s) really positive for consumption and therefore the price outlook. However, I think we are talking about years not months,” said a London-based consultant.

World cocoa prices are more than four times that of sugar.

    The new chocolate is more expensive to produce and might be priced slightly higher than regular chocolate, a Barry Callebaut spokesperson said. It could, however, also be sold in smaller bar sizes and is ultimately not aimed at upmarket consumers.

One in four chocolate and cocoa products consumed worldwide are made with Barry Callebaut ingredients and the group processes almost one million tonnes of cocoa a year, about a fifth of the global volume.

Barry Callebaut has since 2017 launched healthier alternatives such as “ruby chocolate”, “wholefruit chocolate” and a cocoa-based drink “Elix”, with varying degrees of success.

    It generally takes between a year or two for a new product to go from launch to supermarket shelves.

“(The) approach by Barry Callebaut fits the way the food market is going,” said Tedd George, commodities expert and founder of Kleos Advisory. “Sugar is definitely the new tobacco. The way chocolate is made will gradually move in this direction as legislation against sugar in food hardens.”

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by Matt Scuffham and David Evans)

Cadbury-maker Mondelez to invest $600 million on sustainable cocoa sourcing

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – Cadbury chocolate-maker Mondelez International doubled down on sustainable cocoa sourcing on Wednesday, pledging to spend an additional $600 million by 2030 on efforts to combat child labour, farmer poverty and deforestation in cocoa.

The move will bring its total spend on cocoa sustainability since 2012 to $1 billion and comes as multinationals face increased reputational and legal pressures to clean up their global supply chains.

The European Commission has proposed several laws aimed at preventing and, in the case of forced labour, banning the import and use of products linked to environmental and human rights abuses.

This comes after voluntary efforts by food giants like Mondelez to source cocoa and other ingredients sustainably through certification schemes had limited impact in practice.

Mondelez said its ‘Cocoa Life’ scheme is now one of the four pillars of its long-term growth strategy, adding it hopes its new investment will help catalyze sector-wide collaboration to address environmental and human rights challenges in cocoa.

“Cocoa farmers and their communities are still facing big challenges,” said Christine Montenegro McGrath, senior vice president and chief impact and sustainability officer at Mondelēz.

“We are doubling down on (our) approach because we know only a sector-wide long-term strategy supported by all industry players, producing and consuming governments, and civil society will lead to lasting impact.”

Sustainability schemes use auditors like Fairtrade and others to certify ingredients as ethically sourced. However, more than a decade after they were introduced, rates of forest destruction, poverty and child labour in cocoa remain high.

The schemes have been much criticised for not committing to paying farmers a living income.

Oreo cookie maker Mondelez said Cocoa Life will “aim to increase the number of farming households reaching a living income, enhance child protection systems and seek no deforestation on Cocoa Life farms globally’.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Ghana finance ministry, central bank form committee for talks on IMF programme

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana’s finance ministry has formed a five-member committee with the Bank of Ghana to lead discussions with the financial services industry concerning an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The goal of the committee is to “ensure orderliness and confidence in the government’s ongoing negotiations with the IMF,” the statement said.

A similar engagement will be undertaken with external bondholders, it added.

An IMF team visited Ghana last week for talks about a potential loan programme after the West African country requested support. It said discussions were constructive but that more work was needed on a debt-sustainability analysis.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)

IMF team heads to Ghana on Monday to discuss loan programme request

(Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund confirmed on Sunday that a staff team will visit Ghana this week to continue discussions with the authorities on policies and reforms that could be supported by an IMF lending arrangement.

Ghana turned to the IMF for help in July as its balance-of-payments deteriorated and hundreds took to the streets to protest against economic hardship. An IMF staff team briefly visited the country two weeks later.

Reuters’ reported last week that an IMF team would visit Ghana this week. The IMF, in a statement on Sunday, said the team would arrive on Monday and stay until Oct. 7.

The government of Ghana, a major gold and cocoa producer, has been struggling to tame galloping inflation, reduce public debt and shore up the local currency. Its balance-of-payments deficit swelled to nearly $2.5 billion by the end of June from around $935 million in March.

A source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters last month that an eventual agreement between Ghana and the IMF will likely consist of $3 billion in financing over a three-year period, and contain elements of both Extended Credit Facility (ECF) and Extended Fund Facility (EFF) programmes.

(Reporting by Jaiveer Singh Shekhawat in Bengaluru; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Ghana economy up 4.8% in second quarter – stats office

By Cooper Inveen and Christian Arkolie

ACCRA (Reuters) -Ghana’s economy expanded 4.8% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2022, driven by growth in the fishing, manufacturing and education services sectors, data from the country’s statistics service said on Tuesday.

The gold- and cocoa-producing nation, which said in July it would seek IMF support as its balance-of-payments position deteriorated, recorded 4.2% growth in the second quarter of 2021.

Economic growth came in at 3.3% in the first quarter of this year, less than half the 7% growth seen in the last quarter of 2021 as the West African nation battled runaway inflation, a depreciating local currency and high public debt.

“The sharp decline we recorded in the last quarter has been marginally reversed,” government statistician Samuel Kobina Annim said during a press conference.

The government has blamed its woes on a combination of forces, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, as well as U.S. and Chinese economic slumps.

Annim cautioned against seeing recent growth as a reversal of fortunes, however. Growth figures may not fully reflect the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine until the third and fourth quarters of this year, he said.

“Keep in mind that whatever happened in Ukraine in the first quarter of the year and the COVID-19 pandemic have a lot of pass-through effects,” Annim said.

“If you take macroeconomic variables like inflation, like the exchange rate, the potential of a pass-through effect in the third and fourth quarters is high,” he added.

Headline inflation rose 10.4 percentage points in annual terms over the second quarter, while the country’s balance-of-payments deficit swelled from around $935 million in March to nearly $2.5 billion by the end of June.

The nation’s cedi currency, however, which saw rapid depreciation over the latter half of the first quarter, was largely stable over the course of the second. It has since resumed its plunge, having lost around 30% of its value against the dollar since the year began.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie and Cooper Inveen; Editing by James Macharia Chege, Alexandra Hudson)

Barry Callebaut expects to hit sustainable cocoa target by 2025

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – Barry Callebaut, the world’s biggest chocolate maker, said on Monday it is on track to meet its target to trace the source of all the cocoa in its direct supply chain by 2025, making sure it does not come from protected forests.

Cocoa traders and chocolate companies are coming under increased pressure from consumers and governments to clean up their supply chains in the global fight against climate change.

The European Commission has proposed a law, expected to be passed in 2023, aimed at preventing the import of commodities linked to deforestation by requiring companies to prove their global supply chains are not contributing to forest destruction.

Barry Callebaut said in a statement it has so far reached 60% traceability to the individual cocoa farm level in its direct supply chain, and is also working on a plan to enhance traceability in its indirect supply chain.

The indirect chain includes farmers, cooperatives, local traders and exporters who do not work directly for Barry Callebaut.

The chocolate maker did not say what percentage of the total cocoa it sources is traceable, but the World Cocoa Foundation, an industry group, estimates around half of world bean supply is sourced indirectly.

Under the looming EU law, chocolate and cocoa companies placing products on the EU market will likely be required to show the cocoa they source, whether directly or indirectly, did not come from protected forests.

Emissions from the land-use sector, mostly from deforestation, are the second major cause of climate change after the burning of fossil fuels, European Commission data shows.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Analysis: Scientists look to solve ozone threat to Africa’s food security

By Gloria Dickie

ABERGWYNGREGYN, Wales (Reuters) – Plant scientist Felicity Hayes checks on her crops inside one of eight tiny domed greenhouses set against the Welsh hills. The potted pigeon pea and papaya planted in spring are leafy and green, soon to bear fruit.

In a neighbouring greenhouse, those same plants look sickly and stunted. The pigeon pea is an aged yellow with pockmarked leaves; the papaya trees reach only half as tall.

The only difference between the two greenhouse atmospheres – ozone pollution.

Hayes, who works at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), is pumping ozone gas at various concentrations into the greenhouses where African staple crops are growing. She is studying how rising ozone pollution might impact crop yields – and food security for subsistence farmers – in the developing world.

Ozone, a gas formed when sunlight and heat interact with fossil fuel emissions, can cause substantial losses for farmers, research suggests, by quickly aging crops before they reach full production potential and decreasing photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn sunlight into food.

Ozone stress also reduces plants’ defences against pests.

A 2018 study in the journal Global Change Biology estimated global wheat losses from ozone pollution totalled $24.2 billion annually from 2010 to 2012.

In a January paper published in Nature Food, researchers tallied some $63 billion in wheat, rice and maize losses annually within the last decade in East Asia.

Scientists are particularly worried about Africa, which will see more vehicle traffic and waste burning as the population is set to double by mid-century.

That means more ozone pollution, a major challenge for smallholder farmers who make up 60% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa.

“There is a serious concern that ozone pollution will affect yields in the long run,” said senior scientist Martin Moyo at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Zimbabwe.

He called out an “urgent need for more rural studies to determine ozone concentrations” across the continent.

Earlier this year, scientists with the UK-based non-profit Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) set up ozone monitoring equipment around cocoa and maize fields in Ghana, Zambia and Kenya.

But most African countries do not have reliable or consistent air pollution monitors, according to a 2019 UNICEF report. Among those that do, few measure ozone.

RISING OZONE

In the stratosphere, ozone protects the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Closer to the planet’s surface, it can harm plants and animals, including humans.

While air quality regulations have helped reduce ozone levels in the United States and Europe, the trend is set to spike in the opposite direction for fast-growing Africa and parts of Asia.

Climate change could also speed things along.

In areas of Africa with high fossil fuel emissions and frequent burning of forests or grassland, new research suggests hotter temperatures could make the problem worse as they can accelerate chemical reactions that create ozone.

While research has found North American wheat is generally less impacted by ozone than European and Asian counterparts, there have been fewer studies on African versions of the same crops that over decades of cultivation have been made more suitable to those environments.

Once every two weeks in a Nairobi market, farmers from the countryside bring samples of their ailing crops to a “plant doctor” in hopes of determining what is affecting their yields.

“A lot of (ozone) symptoms can be confused with mites or fungal damage,” said CABI entomologist Lena Durocher-Granger. “Farmers might keep applying fertilizer or chemicals thinking it’s a disease, but it’s ozone pollution.”

Her organization is working with UKCEH to help people identify signs of ozone stress and recommend fixes, such as watering less on high ozone days. Watering can leave leaf pores wide open, causing plants to take in even more ozone.

RESILIENT CROPS

In her Welsh greenhouses, Hayes was exposing crops in one dome to the lowest amount – 30 parts per billion – similar to the environment of North Wales. In the dome with the highest ozone level, plants were receiving more than triple that amount, mimicking North Africa’s polluted conditions.

Hayes and her colleagues have found that certain African staples are more affected than others.

In a dome filled with a mid-level amount of ozone, North African wheat plants had quickly turned from green to yellow within just a few months.

“You get tiny thin grains that don’t have all the good bits in them, a lot of husk on the outside and not as much protein and nutritional value,” Hayes said.

That fits with research her team published last year on sub-Saharan plant cultivars, which found that ozone pollution could be lowering sub-Saharan wheat yields by as much as 13%.

Dry beans could fare worse, with estimated yield losses of up to 21% in some areas, according to the same study, published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

“Beans are a useful protein source in Africa, and subsistence farmers grow a lot of it,” said Katrina

Sharps, a UKCEH spatial data analyst.

Sub-Saharan millet, however, seemed more ozone tolerant. Yet Africa produced about half as much millet as wheat in 2020.

“If the soil and growing conditions are suitable,” Sharps said, “subsistence farmers may consider growing more millet.”

(Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Katy Daigle, Marguerita Choy and Bill Berkrot)

Oreo-maker Mondelez’s revenue rises on higher prices, steady demand

By Praveen Paramasivam

(Reuters) -Mondelez International Inc raised its revenue forecast for the full year after posting better-than-expected quarterly results on Tuesday, as higher product prices failed to quell demand for the Oreo maker’s snacks and chocolates.

Packaged food makers have steadily raised prices on everything from cookies to beef jerky as they try to protect their margins from increased costs tied to labor, ingredients and transportation without drawing consumers’ ire.

The Cadbury chocolate maker forecast 2022 organic net revenue to rise by more than 8%, compared with its prior estimate of over 4%.

“While consumers (in developed markets) express growing frustration with rising prices for a broad range of goods and services, they continue to perceive chocolate and biscuits as affordable indulgences and an important pick-me-up,” Chief Executive Dirk Van de Put said on a post-earnings call.

For the second quarter, Mondelez’s net revenue rose about 10% to $7.27 billion, beating estimates of $6.78 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

“Volume growth of 5% in the second quarter is impressive,” Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow wrote in a note.

Consumer giants Coca Cola Co, McDonald’s Corp and Unilever said earlier on Tuesday that their products were selling well, despite price hikes.

Mondelez’s finance chief, Luca Zaramella, said consumers could start pushing back against price increases, particularly in Europe – where the inflation pinch is more pronounced than in the United States – though it has seen little impact so far.

The price increases helped soften the blow from the impact of a strong U.S. dollar on its earnings in the quarter.

Adjusted profit was 67 cents per share, and came in 3 cents above estimates.

However, the company, which increased its quarterly dividend by 10%, maintained its 2022 earnings forecast due to higher costs for transportation, packaging and food ingredients.

(Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Factory shutdown to hit Barry Callebaut after 9-month sales rise

By Silke Koltrowitz

ZURICH (Reuters) -Barry Callebaut expects a “notable financial impact” in its fourth quarter from the shutdown of its Wieze factory as the world’s biggest chocolate maker said on Wednesday that strong demand boosted sales in the nine months to May.

Sales volumes grew 7.9% to 1,751 thousand tonnes in the first nine months of Barry Callebaut’s fiscal year 2021/22, while sales revenue increased 13.5% to 6.076 billion Swiss francs ($6.27 billion), the Zurich-based group said in a statement, also confirming its mid-term targets.

The global chocolate confectionery market grew only 1.4% during that period, Barry Callebaut said, and it outpaced it thanks to strong demand across regions and a continued recovery in its gourmet business that caters to bakeries and chefs.

The company halted production at its Wieze site in Belgium – the world’s biggest chocolate factory – after detecting salmonella in June, but said cleaning was progressing well and it expected to restart production early next month and return to full capacity over the following weeks.

“Though the full financial impact of the incident is still being assessed, the Group expects it to be notable for the financial results in the fourth quarter 2021/22,” it said.

“I assume a 2% group impact on a full-year basis from the factory’s temporary closure, its biggest and around a fifth of group volume,” said Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox, adding that the negative impact could reach 10% in the quarter.

Shares, down about 5% so far this year, opened 0.4% higher.

Barry Callebaut, which passes higher raw material costs on to customers like Nestle, confirmed it expects average volume growth of 5-7% per year and earnings before interest and tax above volume growth in local currencies for the period ending on Aug. 31 next year.

($1 = 0.9683 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz, editing by Kirsti Knolle, Michael Shields and Louise Heavens)

Ghana to sign $3.2 billion railway project deal with Thelo DB consortium

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana’s government will sign an agreement next week with Thelo DB consortium for a $3.2 billion project to develop and make operational its Western Railway Line, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Thelo DB is a South African railway entity incorporated between Thelo Ventures, an African industrial company, and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn Engineering & Consulting (DB). The Thelo DB consortium also includes Ghanaian partner Transtech Consult. 

Ghana’s Western Railway line runs a total of 339 kilometres (210 miles) from Takoradi Port to Kumasi, but only 66 km is operational, according to the website of Ghana’s Ministry of Railways Development, where it is listed as a priority project.

Two mines are on the route, including the Ghana Manganese Mine at Nsuta and a bauxite mine at Awaso, which used to use the railway until it collapsed, according to the ministry.

The line also goes through Ghana’s cocoa-growing regions and cocoa used to be transported in significant quantities by rail, but has not been since 2006.

Transportation of cement, mining equipment and petroleum will also benefit from construction of the rail line, the ministry added.

“The Western Railway Line Project will transform Ghana’s existing railway infrastructure base into a modern, robust and integrated railway system,” Thelo DB said in its statement.

The agreement will be signed on July 25 at a ceremony with President Nana Akufo-Addo, the company said. A presidential spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Cooper Inveen and Christian Akorlie; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Bhargav Acharya and David Evans)

Chocolate factory to restart production after salmonella scare – Barry Callebaut

BERLIN (Reuters) – Barry Callebaut said that it would restart the first chocolate production lines as of early August at its factory in Wieze, Belgium, following a salmonella outbreak at the site.

The Belgian-Swiss chocolate manufacturer reported that “the cleaning of the chocolate lines affected by the entry of salmonella-positive lecithin in its factory in Wieze, Belgium, is progressing well”.

Barry Callebaut halted production at the plant, which it says is the world’s biggest chocolate factory, after discovering salmonella in a production lot in late June. It said no tainted chocolate made it to retail consumers.

(Reporting by Rachel More; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Ivory Coast President Ouattara meets predecessors in reconciliation drive

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) -Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara held a rare meeting on Thursday with his predecessors and longtime rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bedie in an effort to reconcile the West African nation ahead of elections in 2025.

The three men have dominated Ivory Coast’s fractious political scene since the 1990s. Bedie was president from 1993 until his ouster in a 1999 coup. Gbagbo governed from 2000 until his election defeat to Ouattara in 2010.

Tensions came to a head most dramatically after the 2010 election. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, leading to a brief civil war that killed about 3,000 people before rebel forces aligned with Ouattara swept into the main city Abidjan.

Gbagbo was sent to The Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. He was acquitted in 2019 and returned to Ivory Coast last year.

The former adversaries met for private talks at the presidential palace in Abidjan. In a brief statement afterwards, Ouattara said it was good to hear the point of view of former presidents and that he would aim to meet them regularly.

“The President of the Republic and his two predecessors have expressed their desire to make this first meeting a starter for the easing of the national socio-political climate in Ivory Coast,” said Gbagbo, acting as spokesman after the meeting.

Ouattara has presided over relative stability during his decade in power. But dozens of people were killed in clashes that broke out around the 2020 election, when he stood for a third term that Gbagbo and Bedie said was unconstitutional.

Ouattara has not yet said whether he plans to run for a fourth term in 2025. He has said he would like to step down but also suggested he would need Gbagbo and Bedie to commit to withdrawing from politics in order to do so.

There was no indication on Thursday that they would do so.

“It would be really interesting if the three figures agreed to withdraw from political life to leave a place for the new generation,” political analyst Julien Geoffroy Kouao told Reuters.

“For three decades, they have been at the heart of the political problems in Ivory Coast. The three of them therefore have the solution,” he said.

(Writing by Aaron Ross and Nellie PeytonEditing by Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens)

Ghana inflation scales new peak at 29.8% in June

By Cooper Inveen and Christian Akorlie

ACCRA (Reuters) – Consumer inflation in Ghana accelerated to 29.8% annually in June from 27.6% in May, official data showed on Wednesday, shattering another record while the West African nation talks to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support.

Inflation last hit 29% in January 2004.

June prices were driven higher by items such as fuel and bread, with prices of imported goods rising more than domestically produced ones for the third month in a row, the statistics agency said.

Transport, which includes fuel, registered the highest price growth at 41.6%. Diesel saw 99.7% year-on-year inflation while petrol prices were up 69.4%.

Housing, which includes water, electricity and gas, saw a 38.4% increase and food inflation rose to 30.7%. Bread prices were up 44.5%.

Hundreds took to the streets of Ghana’s capital Accra last month to protest against high inflation, weak growth and a deteriorating local currency. Days later, four of Ghana’s largest teachers unions said they would strike if their wages weren’t increased in tandem with rising prices.

After pledging not to return to the IMF, the government said shortly after the protests that it would seek an economic support package to ward off a “fully blown crisis”. A staff mission from the IMF was due to conclude its first visit to Ghana on Wednesday.

A mid-term budget review scheduled for Wednesday was postponed to an unspecified date due to the IMF talks, a finance ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

The government has blamed its woes on a combination of external forces including COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and American and Chinese economic downturns.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie and Cooper Inveen; Additional reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Alexander Winning, William Maclean)

Rising prices curb consumers’ taste for chocolate

By Maytaal Angel and Jessica DiNapoli

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Consumers are cutting back on chocolate due to the cost of living crises in Europe and the United States, according to new data and comments from executives at the world’s biggest chocolate companies.

Overall U.S. chocolate retail sales volumes have been “off and down” 2% to 3% over the last couple of months as prices have risen in the “high single-digit, low double-digit” range, said Hershey Co vice president of investor relations Melissa Poole in an interview with Reuters. Hershey’s performance closely tracks the rest of the chocolate category.

“We are expecting that as we move through the year… we will see a bit of pull-back in volume,” Poole said. Hershey has previously flagged that it expected a softening in demand. Until the recent dip, “consumers haven’t really reduced consumption much at all,” she said.

Chocolate sales, particularly in the United States, ballooned along with purchases of many consumer products in the later stages of the coronavirus pandemic, with shoppers buoyed by government stimulus payments and sticking with “homebody lifestyle” habits such as buying in bulk.

But chocolate companies are now seeing some consumer behavior change – for instance, shoppers choosing individual candy bars at the register instead of multipacks.

According to Chicago-based market researcher IRI, the volume sold of chocolate products in the United States dropped 1.5% versus a year ago in the 13-weeks ended June 12 as prices soared 8.2%.

“We’re going to see chocolate becoming more sensitive to price. Consumers will treat themselves, but it will be smaller sizes, a small treat. That’s why you’re seeing (a sales) volume decline,” said Daniel Sadler, a principal at IRI.

IRI data also showed sales volumes of U.S. store-brand or “private-label” chocolate, a minor part of the overall market that is cheaper than name-brand chocolate, grew by 8% in the last six months.

In Britain, consultants McKinsey found 40% of Britons traded down to cheaper products in both snacks and confectionery in the four to six weeks ended mid-May.

Cheaper chocolate has a lower cocoa content, meaning even if chocolate makers’ sales volumes stay the same in a downturn, cocoa demand would fall.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also impacted demand, traders and experts say, with the two countries together accounting for 5% of usual global cocoa demand.

Some chocolate makers, including majors Lindt and Nestle, withdrew from or reduced sales in Russia this year to protest the invasion. But Lindt said the impact of that move on its finances would be small.

SHRINKFLATION

Hershey in recent months has been using its new fulfillment center in Annville, Pennsylvania to more easily and efficiently serve retailers such as mass discounters and dollar stores whose customers are very sensitive to price, Poole said.

“For those who have the money and have the space to store bigger bags, value to them is cheaper price per pound,” Poole said. “Value to others might be something ‘accessible to me’ at an absolute lower price point.”

Hershey in certain cases slims down package size and keeps the price similar – commonly known as “shrinkflation” – to retain customers who say they only have $3 to spend on a bag of chocolate Kisses, rather than $5 or $6, Poole said. It has not used this tool “as often as you might think” because of the time and planning involved, she said.

“Inflation has been so significant, we rely more on list price increases,” Poole said. About 20% of Hershey’s products are below $2, down from 25% in April.

However, over the last 18 months the company has taken weight out of some seasonal items, Poole said.

Shrinkflation, like trading down to cheaper chocolate, impacts cocoa demand even if item sales volumes stay the same.

Chocolate makers originally expected cocoa demand to grow some 2.5% this year, but are now seeing growth of just 1%, followed by no growth next year if inflation persists and the Russia-Ukraine war continues, traders and experts say.

Mondelez, which makes Cadbury and Milka chocolate, has also “made the decision to slightly reduce the weight of certain products,” said spokesperson Tracey Noe in an email. Cadbury Dairy Milk bars sold in the UK are now smaller.

Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put said last month at a conference the company is “doing everything that’s in (its) power to prepare for potentially a consumer that reacts” to price hikes and an economic recession, including investing in advertising.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel and Richa Naidu in London, and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Additional reporting by Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Crisis-hit Ghana changes its mind and turns to IMF for help

By Christian Akorlie

ACCRA (Reuters) -Ghana, one of West Africa’s largest economies, will hold formal talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a support package, the government said on Friday, after hundreds took to the streets to protest against mounting hardship.

The cabinet gave its support for the decision at a meeting on Thursday, following a phone conversation between President Nana Akufo-Addo and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

Ghana, a gold, cocoa and oil producer, has until now refused to seek IMF support to rescue an economy crippled by the pandemic, rampant inflation and a depreciating currency, despite analysts warning it is close to a debt crisis..

The IMF confirmed Ghana’s request for help and said it would start discussions with authorities in the coming weeks.

“The IMF stands ready to assist Ghana to restore macroeconomics stability; safeguard debt sustainability; promote inclusive and sustainable growth; and address the impact of the war in Ukraine and the lingering pandemic,” an IMF spokesperson told Reuters.

Central bank governor Ernest Addison said in May that Ghana faced an overall balance of payments deficit of $934.5 million in the first quarter of 2022, compared with $429.9 million in the same period last year.

Analysts said the decision had been inevitable and should help Ghana deal with its challenges.

“The first gain for Ghana will be improved international confidence in the country’s capacity and efforts to weather the crisis,” said Leslie Dwight Mensah, Economist and Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in Accra.

Ghana’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds rallied sharply, with issues maturing in 2027 jumping more than 7 cents in the dollar to trade at their highest level since May.

Investors were divided over whether they expected Ghana to have to restructure its debts through the Group of 20 leading economies’ Common Framework process as a condition of IMF help.

“There’s a limit to the upside in terms of the market now getting excited about an IMF program, because… the IMF is going to require some form of a debt restructuring,” said Kevin Daly of emerging market asset manager Abrdn.

“We would be loathe for them to go through that protracted, very difficult and in our view ineffective process,” Yvette Babb of William Blair, said of the Common Framework.

Hundreds took to the streets in Accra this week to protest against spiraling inflation and other woes. Growth slowed to 3.3% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2022 and inflation hit a record of 27.6% in May.

The central bank raised its main interest rate by 200 basis points to 19% last month, the second hike this year to buttress macroeconomic stability.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie in AccraAdditional reporting by Bate Felix in Dakar, Cooper Inveen in Accra and Karin Strohecker and Rachel Savage in LondonWriting by Sofia ChristensenEditing by James Macharia Chege, Alistair Bell and Mark Potter)

Hershey, Nestle, Cargill win dismissal in U.S. of child slavery lawsuit

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by eight citizens of Mali who sought to hold Hershey Co, Nestle SA, Cargill Inc and others liable for child slavery on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said the plaintiffs in the proposed class action lacked standing to sue because they did not show a “traceable connection” between the seven defendant companies and the specific plantations where they worked.

She said the plaintiffs also did not adequately explain the role of intermediaries in the cocoa supply chain, noting that the companies did not monitor activity in “free zones” where about 70% to 80% of the cocoa is produced.

Mali and the Ivory Coast share a border in West Africa.

The plaintiffs said they were trafficked as children after being approached by unfamiliar men who promised paying jobs, but were ultimately not paid for their labor, threatened with starvation if they did not work, and required to live in squalor.

Their lawyer, Terry Collingsworth, said the plaintiffs plan to appeal, hoping to “force the companies to keep their own promises and end this abhorrent system they have created.”

The other defendants included privately-held Mars Inc, Mondelez International Inc, Barry Callebaut AG and Olam International Ltd.

In court papers, the seven defendants said they “strongly condemn the use of forced labor” and were working to address non-forced child labor in cocoa supply chains.

But they said the plaintiffs’ overbroad legal theory could leave too many people liable for forced child labor, including consumers and retailers who might benefit from lower prices.

The plaintiffs had sued under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a similar lawsuit by six Malian citizens against Cargill and Nestle brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 federal law.

That decision was the latest in a series of rulings limiting access to federal courts based on human rights abuses outside the country.

The case is Coubaly et al v Cargill Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 21-00386.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)