Natra, the Spain-based chocolate maker, has booked a 17% jump in annual profits as the economic downturn boosted its sales.

The company, which specialises in own-label chocolate, posted a 17.4% rise in EBIT to EUR14.2m (US$17.9m) for 2008.

Sales climbed 32.5% to EUR303.1m. Excluding the contribution of Belgian chocolate firm All Crump, which was snapped up in the autumn of 2007, sales rose 19%, Natra said when it issued its 2008 accounts yesterday (2 March).

On Wednesday, Natra announced that it would take on Stollwerck, the European consumer chocolate business of Swiss group Barry Callebaut.

The deal, which is yet to be finalised, will see Callebaut take a minority stake in Natra.

The addition of Stollwerck to the Natra business will create a company with annual sales of around EUR850m on a  pro forma basis. The combined businesses would have around 2% of the European cocoa and chocolate market and an pro forma output of 215,000 tonnes.

Under the deal, Callebaut also plans to supply a minimum of 85,000 tonnes of liquid chocolate to Natra per year.

A further stipulation of the deal would be that Natra reduces its stake in Spanish food ingredients business Natraceutical to below 50%.