KANSAS CITY — North American cocoa bean grind in the first quarter of 2010 was 116,122 tonnes, up 16% from the same period last year, the National Confectioners Association said. Pre-report trade estimates ranged from a gain of 5% to 12%. The surge in grind indicated improving demand for cocoa and chocolate as the economy recovers, traders said, although some noted it was compared with extremely low grind a year ago. Cocoa powder prices have been near historic highs as reduced demand for cocoa butter, used in higher quality chocolate, fell during the recession, prompting processors to reduce grind, which also cut powder supplies. Some grades of cocoa powder remain unavailable and delivery delays have occurred, traders have indicated.