Kraft Foods has expanded the chocolate production capacity at its factory in Hale, Belgium.

Kraft currently operates two chocolate plants in Belgium: a factory in Herentals that processes cocoa into a semi-finished product and the Hale facility, where the Côte d’Or, Milka, Freia and Marabou brands are made.

“We have opened a new production line at the factory in Hale,” a spokesperson for Kraft’s operations in Belgium told just-food this morning (18 April). “It will expand our capacity from 60,000 tonnes to 80,000 tonnes annually.”

At a cost of US$15m, the automated line represents Kraft’s largest investment in European chocolate for 15 years.

Reports have suggested that the move signals Kraft’s intention to grow its presence in the premium chocolate market in Europe.

Kraft has increasingly turned its attention to the premium end of the confectionery sector in the US in an attempt to counteract lacklustre sales.

The company declined to comment on this suggestion, but acknowledged that the premium chocolate category presented an “interesting opportunity” in Europe.

In 2007, premium chocolate sales increased 14% across Europe and 26% in Belgium.