Jacques Torres is betting Americans simply cannot kick their chocolate habit even after the price of cocoa surged to the highest in three years. Torres, a former pastry chef who calls himself Mr Chocolate, spent more than US$3 million on a Brooklyn confectionary-making plant last year and doubled his eponymous shops in New York to eight from four, with seven Manhattan locations. He said sales this year will top last year's record of US$10 million. "People love chocolate," Torres said. "Business is still strong. The market is there. The economy in New York and the US is better." No country consumes more chocolate than the United States, where sales will climb to a record US$17.75 billion this year, market researcher Euromonitor International estimates. As demand grows, producers are raising prices to cover ingredient costs. Cocoa climbed 2.2 per cent last month on concern that the deadly Ebola outbreak will disrupt shipments from West Africa, the world's biggest growing region. "For many, chocolate is seen as an affordable luxury," said Pinar Hosafci, a packaged-food analyst at Euromonitor in London. "The demand for chocolate remains still very strong. In the US, growth for premium-chocolate variants and also bite-sized chocolates is quite high." Cocoa futures have risen 15 per cent this year, pushing the cost of cocoa butter, the main chocolate ingredient, up 5 per cent. That prompted chocolate makers including Hershey and Mars to raise prices in July. But even with higher prices, chocolate sales rose 1.9 per cent year on year to one million tonnes in the 52 weeks ended on October 5, according to market researcher IRI, which tracks data from retailers including supermarkets and convenience stores. The National Confectioners Association says chocolate consumption typically peaks from Halloween on October 31 to Easter, which will be celebrated on April 5 next year, and output has been rising. Cocoa processing in North America climbed 4.6 per cent to 125,215 tonnes in the third quarter, the highest since the association began tracking the data in 2009. The US is not alone in its love for chocolate. Global cocoa processing increased 3.7 per cent to 4.26 million tonnes in the year to the end of September, a fourth straight record, according to the London-based International Cocoa Organisation, a group of producing and consuming countries. While output rose 10 per cent to 4.3 million tonnes, global inventories equalled 38.9 per cent of demand, a four-year low.