Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut has booked a 15.3% increase in half-year profits, boosted by tight cost-control and higher cocoa product margins.

Net income in the six-month period climbed to CHF143.4m (US$125m), the company said today (2 April). In local currencies net profit rose 23.2%.

Operating profit increased 9.1% to CHF218.6m and, when measured in local currencies, rose by 17.6%.

Barry Callebaut reports its figures in Swiss francs and the strength of the currency against the euro, the pound and the US dollar weighed on its top line.

On a reported basis, revenues dipped 1.6% to CHF2.54bn. When measured in local currencies, turnover rose 4.7%.

CEO Patrick De Maeseneire, who announced his departure from Barry Callebaut today, said the results are "satisfactory" in the context of a "declining global chocolate market".

"We succeeded in maintaining our sales volumes and considerably increased our profitability by taking appropriate strategic actions and efficiency measures in good time. The environment will remain challenging in the second semester and currency volatility will continue," De Maeseneire said.

In Europe, Callebaut's sales volumes declined in line with negative market trends in key chocolate countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. Overall sales volumes declined by 5.2% to 411,634 tonnes. Sales revenue was almost flat in local currencies. In Swiss franc terms, sales revenue came in 8% lower at CHF1.81bn.

In the Americas, Barry Callebaut saw sales volumes rise 7%, with revenues up
22.6% in local currencies. In Swiss francs, sales revenue rose by 17.8% to CHF537m.

The company said it sees fiscal year 2008/09 as a year of "slower volume growth" of around 2-4%, with profits in local currencies expected to be in line with its target.

Meanwhile, Barry Callebaut has also signed a distribution agreement in Brazil with Bunge Alimentos. The deal gives the Brazilian agribusiness exclusive distribution of artisanal chocolate products made by Barry Callebaut in Brazil through the foodservice channel.

The two companies will jointly develop a range of compound and chocolate products under the Sicao (Barry Callebaut) and the Gradina (Bunge) brand, respectively.