NEW YORK, Oct 17 (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindingsjumped 8.25 percent to their highest since at least 2009 asconfectioners replenished stocks to meet rising demand beforethe year-end festive season, data from the NationalConfectioners Association showed on Thursday.
Grinding, a key indicator of demand for chocolate's keyingredient, totaled 131,974 tonnes in the third quarter, up from121,916 tonnes in the year-earlier period and 126,044 tonnes inthe second quarter of this year, the data showed.
The result was in line with expectations for a rise ofbetween 6 percent and 10 percent. The total was the highestsince at least 2009 when the NCA started combining U.S.,Canadian and Mexican data.
"We know business has been good in the United States, soit's not a shocker," said Nick Gentile, senior partner ofcommodity trading consultancy Atlantic Capital Advisors.
Even so, the news will likely add fuel to optimism aboutgrowing demand for chocolate bars.
Prices on ICE Futures U.S. hit fresh two-year highson Thursday after data overnight revealed a double-digit percentincrease in grinding in Asia.
Capacity there has soared in recent years as suppliers aimto take advantage of rising demand in emerging economies.
The pace of growth in Europe, where most of the world'sgrinding capacity is located and the weak euro-zone economy hascrimped demand, was slower - rates rose 5 percent to 331,514tonnes in the quarter.
Cocoa beans, when ground, yield roughly equal parts ofbutter and powder, which is used in cakes, biscuits and drinks.
The premiums for butter, which gives chocolate itsmelt-in-the-mouth texture, are now at their highest since 2005in the United States ahead of the year-end festive season.
Eleven companies took part in the North American survey,unchanged from the second quarter.
Those included 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.
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