Big chocolate deal's impact here uncertain

Posted: September 04, 2014

A giant agribusiness company in Chicago is selling its global chocolate business to a Minneapolis firm, which could have a ripple effect on cocoa bean imports to the Port of Philadelphia and to South Jersey.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. announced Tuesday it will sell three chocolate plants in North America and three in Europe to Cargill Inc. for $440 million.

Cargill owns the legendary Wilbur Chocolate brand in Lititz, Pa.

While selling its chocolate factories, Archer Daniels will keep its cocoa-processing operations - except for the cocoa operation in Hazleton, Pa., which will stop when the sale goes through, resulting in the elimination of 90 jobs.

An additional 118 workers at the chocolate operation in Hazleton will become Cargill employees once the deal closes in the first half of next year.

Cargill employs about 400 in Lititz and Mount Joy.

The Wilbur brand moved in 1902 to Lititz, where Cargill produces chocolate and cocoa-based products.

The acquired facilities will "extend and complement" Cargill's existing chocolate footprint across North America, Europe, Asia, and Brazil, and increase production capacity, particularly in North America, the company said.

"This acquisition is a major milestone in Cargill's chocolate growth strategy," said Bryan Wurscher, president of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America.

Cargill will acquire Archer Daniels chocolate plants in Hazleton; Milwaukee; Georgetown, Ontario, Canada; Liverpool, U.K.; Manage, Belgium; and Mannheim, Germany.

The Philadelphia region is a hotbed for chocolate processing and manufacturing.

Last year, cocoa bean deliveries were up 34.4 percent at the Philadelphia port, to 121,639 tons. Through July 31 this year, the port handled 80,231 tons of cocoa beans, said Robert Blackburn, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority's senior deputy executive director.

"The situation is too fluid at this point to know exactly what the effect is going to be," Blackburn said, referring to the sale of the Hazleton plant. "We believe that the beans still have to get into the U.S. to get into the market, and we have the strongest facilities for discharging the vessels."

Within 100 miles of the Delaware River are four large cocoa processors that grind raw beans into cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate ingredients to make candy, ice cream, cookies, and cakes.

They are: Blommer Chocolate Co. in East Greenville; Barry Callebaut AG in Eddystone and Pennsauken; Archer Daniels Midland in Hazleton; and Mars Inc., maker of M&M candies, in Elizabethtown, Pa., and Hackettstown, N.J.

The companies, in turn, sell to confection manufacturers: Hershey Co., Mars Snackfood, Kraft Foods Inc., Tasty Baking Co., Asher's Chocolates Inc., and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, all in this region.

"Philadelphia is one of many U.S. ports that we receive [cocoa] beans through," said Cargill spokesman Peter Stoddart.


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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