(Recasts; adds NCA data, background)
NEW YORK, Jan 18 (Reuters) - North American cocoa grindings took a surprise fall in the fourth quarter of 2017 and nudged down to a five-year low for the full calendar year, data from the National Confectioners Association (NCA) showed on Thursday.
Cocoa processors in the United States, Canada and Mexico reported grinding 116,080 tonnes of beans from October through December, down 1.28 percent from the same period a year earlier and the lowest for the fourth quarter since 2009, NCA data showed.
That was below expectations that ranged from 1 percent to 3 percent higher and brought the region's bean processing in 2017 to 484,620 tonnes, down 0.1 percent from 2016 and a five-year low.
Cocoa grinding reflects demand for chocolate's key ingredient, though higher processing in No. 1 grower Ivory Coast has reduced grinding percentages in consuming countries. In the 2016/17 crop year (October/September), cocoa grinding in Ivory Coast was 16 percent higher than the previous season.
On Monday, the fourth-quarter grind in Europe was reported rising 4.4 percent to 353,286 tonnes, the biggest for the October-to-December period in data going back to 1999. For 2017, European cocoa grindings reached a six-year high at 1.38 million tonnes.
The nine companies that took part in the North American survey are: Barry Callebaut AG, Blommer Chocolate Co, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate Co, ECOM, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co, Guittard Chocolate Co, Hershey Co, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, and Swiss food group Nestle SA.
Nestle announced this week that it agreed to sell its U.S. confectionery business to Italy's Ferrero. (Reporting by Marcy Nicholson; Editing by Tom Brown)