NEW YORK, Jan 16 (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindings rose by just over 4 percent in the fourth quarter last year, a slightly slower pace than many had expected, National Confectioners Association (NCA) data showed on Thursday.
The grind data, a traditional gauge of demand for chocolate's key ingredient, climbed 4.37 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012 to 125,332 tonnes, the data showed.
It was the highest fourth quarter since at least 2009, when the NCA first added Canadian and Mexican data, reflecting continued demand growth for chocolate, but it was slightly below the estimated 5 to 7.4 percent rise.
The NCA revised fourth-quarter 2012 grinding volume to 120,085 tonnes from 120,053 tonnes.
This was the fifth straight quarterly report showing a year-on-year rise, the result of steep demand for cocoa butter, a main byproduct of ground cocoa beans that gives chocolate its melt-in-the-mouth texture, and for chocolate in general, analysts and traders said.
Firm demand was also seen in Europe, the world's biggest cocoa processing region, where the fourth-quarter grind rebounded to levels in line with two years ago, up 6.2 percent from the same period last year to 348,406 tonnes, near the record for the same period in 2009 at 351,316 tonnes, data showed on Wednesday.
Cocoa grinding in Malaysia moved in the other direction, falling 9 percent to 70,064 tonnes in the quarter and 4.6 percent to 285,608 tonnes in 2013, data showed Wednesday.
The 11 companies that took part in the North American survey are: ADM Cocoa, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Co, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate Co, ECOM, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co, Guittard Chocolate Co, Hershey Co, Mars Chocolate North America, Nestle Chocolate & Confections and World's Finest Chocolate Inc.