By Marcy Nicholson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindings rose slightly in the first quarter of 2017, data from the National Confectioners Association (NCA) showed on Thursday, coming within market expectations.
Cocoa processors in the United States, Canada and Mexico reported grinding 120,152 tonnes from January to March, up 1.15 percent from the first quarter of 2016, NCA data showed.
In the first quarter of 2016, processors in the United States, Canada and Mexico reported the weakest cocoa grinding in nearly four years at 118,790 tonnes due to lackluster demand.
Cocoa grinding reflects demand for chocolate's key ingredient.
The higher first-quarter grind data for North America followed a sharp 19.2 percent increase year-over-year to 177,450 tonnes in Asia, data showed early on Thursday.
In Europe, the first-quarter grind rose by 1.09 percent from the year-ago period to 339,485 tonnes, data showed last week.
The higher grindings came amid a bearish futures market, with New York spot cocoa prices <CCc1> at the lowest in more than eight years during the first quarter. The London contract <LCCc1> fell to 2013 lows as the markets focused on expectations for abundant supplies.
Prices have since extended their slide, with New York cocoa prices <CCc2> slumping to a 9-1/2-year low and London <LCCc2> to a five-year trough on Thursday.
The nine companies that took part in the North American survey are: Barry Callebaut AG <BARN.S>, Blommer Chocolate Co, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate Co [CARG.UL], ECOM, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co, Guittard Chocolate Co, Hershey Co <HSY.N>, Mars Chocolate North America and Nestle Chocolate & Confections <NESN.S>.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)