Spanish chocolate group Natra has opened a commercial office in Hong Kong as part of its strategic plan to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific markets.

The office, which opened last week, represents “a firm step”, the company said, in its commitment to expanding its business outside Europe, particularly in the markets of North America and Asia. Natra said China is its first target market due to its “significant growth opportunities”.

“Chocolate consumption is now awakening in this market, especially due to the development of large foreign retail chains in the country and the increasing purchasing power of the population,” the company said. “It is estimated that in 2016 the middle class population in China will reach 340m people, in a market with an annual chocolate consumption of 100 grams per person, compared to 8 kilos per person in Western Europe.”

As a result of this projected growth, Natra said it considered it “essential” to establish a permanent business office in the country. The company currently has a sales team in China and is present in the top five retail chains in the country.

In 2012, Natra’s cocoa and chocolate activity in markets outside Europe accounted for 20% of total sales, reaching EUR63.98m. Among these markets, the Asia-Pacific countries brought together 18% of export sales.

Natra said it aims to triple sales in its consumer goods division in China over the next three years. It will do this by consolidating a customer base of retail chains as well as importers that have their own brands and distribution capabilities in the country, it said.

In the first instance, Natra said it will concentrate on predicted demand in Asia for Belgian and French chocolates, but will also look to identify opportunities to gradually integrate its countlines and spreads categories into the region.