The Netherlands largest importer of cocoa beans

© Hollandse Hoogte
In 2018, Dutch cocoa bean imports stood at 1.1 billion kg, more than half of which came from Ivory Coast. This makes the Netherlands the largest importer of cocoa beans in the world. Approximately three-quarters are destined for domestic industrial processing while around one-quarter are resold directly to other countries. This is reported by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) on the basis of new research into destinations of Dutch goods imports.

The Netherlands is a major importer of some important agricultural commodities such as cocoa beans, palm oil (third largest country in the world in terms of import value), soybeans (fourth largest) and coffee (fifth largest). In terms of total volume, the Netherlands is the fourth largest importer of palm oil and eighth largest of coffee.

Within the European Union, the Netherlands is the largest importer of cocoa beans, palm oil and soybeans. Globally, palm oil imports are highest in India while China is by far the largest soybean importer and the US the largest coffee bean importer.

19131 Graphic Invoer agrogrondstoffen Import volume (bn kg) 1Netherlands1 .12Germany0 .53United States0 .41India11 .22China6 .23Pakistan3 .04Netherlands2 .91China86 .02Argentina6 .43Mexico5 .24Netherlands4 .31United States1 .62Germany1 .23Italy0 .68Netherlands0 .3 Position of the Netherlands in agricultural commodity imports, 2018 Import value (bn euros) Cocoa beans1Netherlands2 .12Germany1 .03United States0 .8Palm oil1India6 .02China3 .73Netherlands1 .8Soybeans1China30 .22Argentina2 .13Mexico1 .74Netherlands1 .5Coffee1United States4 .82Germany2 .83France2 .35Netherlands1 .1 Source: UN, Eurostat, USDA, CBS.

Highest import value for cocoa beans, highest volume for soybeans

Of the above agricultural commodities, cocoa beans had the highest import value in 2018 (2.1 billion euros), followed by palm oil (1.8 billion euros) and soybeans (1.5 billion euros). In terms of volume, soybean imports were highest (4.3 billion kg), followed by palm oil (2.9 billion kg) and cocoa beans (1.1 billion kg).

Cocoa bean and coffee imports saw the strongest increase (with the import volume more or less doubling relative to 2008). Palm oil imports increased by approximately one-quarter in the span of a decade while soybean imports rose the least at around 10 percent.

More than half of all imported cocoa beans originate from Ivory Coast; most of the remainder is from Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Traditionally, palm oil has its origin in Indonesia and Malaysia. However, other countries of origin such as Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Papua New Guinea are emerging. The majority of soybeans are imported from Brazil and the United States. Relatively low volumes of coffee beans are imported directly from origin countries such as Colombia and Brazil. This commodity mainly arrives in the Netherlands via other European countries such as the neighbouring countries and France.

Agricultural commodity imports (bn)
productJaarImport volume (kg)Import value (euros)
Cocoa beans20181.102.10
20080.560.89
Palm oil20182.881.77
20082.331.44
Soybeans20184.281.45
20083.941.31
Coffee20180.281.10
20080.130.35

Cocoa, soy and palm oil mainly used for industrial processing

The figures up to 2016 include information on the destination of Dutch imports. What stands out is that three-quarters of cocoa bean, soybean and palm oil imports are processed or consumed in the Netherlands, while less than one-quarter are re-exported to other countries, mainly to the European hinterland. The share of cocoa beans destined for industrial processing or consumption in the Netherlands has become slightly smaller over the past decade. On the other hand, soybeans and palm oil have seen a modest rise. 83 percent of coffee imports are destined for the Dutch market.

Cocoa beans, soybeans and palm oil are commodities which are industrially processed into other products. For example, cocoa beans are processed into chocolate or semi-finished products such as cocoa powder and cocoa butter, destined for chocolate factories in Belgium or Switzerland. The bulk of soybeans are ground to cattle feed but can also be converted to products for human consumption. Palm oil is used as an ingredient in many food products, from soups to peanut butter, but may also be added to shampoos or cosmetics.

Share of agricultural commodities destined for processing or consumption in the Netherlands (% of import value)
Product2012-20162007-20112002-2006
Cocoa beans768093
Soybeans796871
Palm oil828475
Coffee838484

Sustainable use of agricultural commodities in the Netherlands

A number of market participants in the Netherlands have committed themselves via agreements and initiatives to concrete milestones towards an increased use of sustainably produced agricultural commodities. Those involved often monitor the objectives themselves while CBS validates the process at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The sale of cocoa in supermarkets is monitored by CBS. The monitoring results will be published in the Monitor sustainable agricultural commodities.

Sustainably produced agricultural commodities used in the Netherlands (%)
JaarPalm oil (used in food industry)Soy (used in animal feed industry)Coffee (consumed or sold)Cocoa (sold in supermarkets)
201130840
2012531842
2013612250
201472145055
201584514758
2016905466

The use of sustainably produced palm oil, soy (products) and cocoa has been on the rise in recent years. In the production of foodstuffs for the Dutch market, only sustainably produced palm oil has been used since 2015. When it comes to meat, dairy and eggs, only animals feeds with sustainably produced soy have been used since 2016. The decline in the share of sustainably produced coffee can be explained in part by the wider sustainability approach adopted by coffee businesses.