Port of Antwerp-Bruges as a hub in the cocoa trade

From cocoa plantation in West Africa to chocolate bar in your pocket, the cocoa bean makes quite the logistical journey. Port of Antwerp-Bruges plays an important role in that. Antwerp offers a number of advantages for the shipping of cocoa beans. The presence of key players in the cocoa supply chain are testament to this.

Over 60% of African origin

No less than 60% of global cocoa production comes from Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. There, farmers harvest the beans. Those farmers group together in cooperatives to sell the beans. After the beans are brought to market, they go to warehouses, where they are bagged and stored, ready for transport.

With Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana in the lead, more than 60% of cocoa production comes from Africa.

In Ivory Coast, cooperatives sell their own beans. In Ghana, cooperatives sell the beans to a state body, the Cocoa Marketing Company, which then negotiates with end buyers. Those end buyers are often investors.

An interesting market for investors

That key role for West Africa in the global trade of cocoa beans also creates economic vulnerabilities. A late rainy season is currently causing a less successful harvest in the region. In addition, the beans also have to deal with the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus. Those factors make for a reduced supply. Initial estimates assume a 30% lower yield. As a result, the price per tonne this year is more than three times higher than last year.

Those price fluctuations, and the fact that cocoa beans can be stored for a long time, make it an interesting market for investors. As a result, the cocoa market has two main flows: beans going directly to processing and beans traded as investment on the International Commodity Exchange (ICE). The beans sold as an investment on the exchange form a buffer stock that can sometimes last up to 10 years. These strategic stockpiles can be drawn from during periods of weaker harvests. Thus, the supply of cocoa beans remains assured.

The cocoa market has two main flows: beans going directly to processing and beans traded as investment on the International Commodity Excgange (ICE).

In less than two weeks, the beans reach Antwerp from Africa. The containers are lined with special paper and drying bags that absorb moisture.

Bart ClaessensCommercial Liner Africa at MSC
Cocoa beans arrive as bulk in a sea ship.

Regular transport between West Africa and Antwerp

Cocoa beans hold a great deal of moisture. This poses a challenge for transport. The temperature difference between Africa and Europe causes the cocoa beans to condense. They get wet and can become mouldy. Short transit times are therefore very important.

Cocoa beans reach Antwerp in containers or in bulk. During the cocoa season, which lasts from October to March, there are several weekly shipments from Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana to Antwerp. Port of Antwerp-Bruges is an important cocoa port for Europe thanks to excellent connections to the African continent, large container capacity and proximity to many chocolate producers. 

Value-added services at the port

Since many cocoa beans are bought as an investment, they must be stored for long periods of time. This is done in ICE-approved warehouses in only a few locations, including Antwerp. These therefore meet the highest quality standards. 


Those warehouses are also where the beans are repackaged and cleaned. Samples are taken to ensure quality and resolve disputes. In blending, companies mix beans of different qualities and origins according to customers' requirements. Infestation checks and pest controls are a priority in the warehouses. This is done in containers, bags and on samples taken at a later date. 

Besides storing cocoa beans, for example in a fully automated bulk warehouse, we also provide specialized treatments.

Anne PauwelsGeneral Manager at Vollers
Cocoa beans are stored in Antwerp warehouses that meet the standards of the International Commodity Exchange (ICE).

A quality check is done in a laboratory, in line with industry regulations. The beans are weighed at each move, for contractual reasons but also to track weight reduction. This is inevitable due to moisture loss by the cocoa beans. This explains why 100 kilograms of stored cocoa beans lose 2 kilograms of weight over time. Finally, the beans can continue to be stored in bonded warehouses. They may not yet be cleared through customs until a customer is found. 

In a laboratory quality checks are done in line with industry regulations.

Port of Antwerp-Bruges as a cocoa port

Antwerp is home to extensive cocoa bean storage facilities, with warehouses that are fully ICE-certified and therefore meet the highest quality standards. In addition, there are fast overseas connections to the main countries of origin in Africa.


In addition, the size of the port is also an advantage. Every shipping company that ships cocoa has a fixed place to unload. This makes Antwerp an important destination for those shipping companies. There are therefore unlimited options if you want to ship cocoa from the country of origin. For example, you decide whether to work with a shipping company that is consciously committed to sustainability or not. The port does not place restrictions on that.


Thanks to the large number of companies active in cocoa in Antwerp, the port offers a range of options for every form of packaging and mode of transport. This also ensures that the port is able to very flexibly join the transition to more sustainable forms of shipping, for example. 

Antwerp's storage companies and port workers have the know-how and capacity to receive all packaging types: 

  • Containers: both bulk and bagged cargo
  • Megabulk: cocoa beans are transported as loose bulk in a seagoing vessel
  • Breakbulk: sacks of cocoa, bundled in slings, are transported loose in a seagoing vessel 
Cocoa is unloaded in bulk at a terminal on the Antwerp port platform.

Finally, its location in Belgium is also an added bonus. Besides more than approximately 700 cocoa manufacturers, Belgium is also home to the largest chocolate factory and the largest chocolate warehouse in the world. Belgian chocolate enjoys a high-quality reputation worldwide. 

Belgian chocolate as popular export product

Belgian chocolate is exported all over the world. In those exports, a distinction is made between two products. On the one hand: finished chocolate products made here, such as pralines and chocolate bars. On the other hand: chocolate that is made to make other products with. 

Exports of the latter product come in various forms. For transport within Europe, tankers mainly opt for a liquid form. Manufacturers thus set to work immediately to make pralines with it, for example. For international exports, chocolate is mainly transported in industrial blocks. These can be re-melted later. Finally, there are specialised forms such as pearls or curls. This is mainly for artisan applications, such as a baker who needs smaller quantities of chocolate for their patisserie or as decoration.

Belgian chocolate is regarded around the world as an extra high-quality product with important markets in North America, Asia and the Middle East.

Steve AlaertsPartner & Director at Foodcareplus
Finished chocolate products such as pralines are an important Belgian export product.

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