* Net profit up 9 pct to 120 mln Sfr
* Stand-alone sales volume up 3.1 pct
* Confirms mid-term financial targets
* CFO sees cocoa prices ease short term
(Adds comments by CEO, CFO and analyst, further details)
ZURICH, April 3 (Reuters) - Barry Callebaut, the world's biggest chocolate maker, reported a rise in half-year profits on Thursday, boosted by the turnaround of the Petra cocoa business it bought over a year ago, and reaffirmed its medium-term sales growth target.
Chocolate makers are facing sluggish growth, especially in mature markets in western Europe, but Barry Callebaut benefits from a trend at big food groups, such as Nestle and Unilever , to outsource chocolate production.
On top of this industrial chocolate production, Barry Callebaut also supplies restaurants, bakeries and catering services with 'gourmet' chocolate products, a business area that is growing strongly.
"We'll continue to grow in the second half thanks to our three growth drivers, emerging markets, outsourcing and gourmet," Chief Executive Juergen Steinemann told Reuters in a phone interview on Thursday.
The Zurich-based firm said sales volumes in the first half increased 3.1 percent on a stand-alone basis, or 17.6 percent including the business acquired from Petra Foods at the end of 2012.
The stand-alone growth was below the group's medium-term target of 6-8 percent volume growth per year that was, however, repeated on Thursday.
Sales volumes only grew very slightly in Europe and North America, but strongly in South America and Asia-Pacific.
Net profit rose 8.9 percent to 119.6 million Swiss francs ($134.99 million), just missing analysts' forecasts.
Steinemann said the company was focusing on margin improvements and had made good progress: "We have significantly increased our profitability also because we managed to already turn around the cocoa business acquired from Petra."
Vontobel analyst Pascal Furger said in a note: "In spite of very low volume growth in the second quarter, Barry was able to increase the EBIT per tonne by 6 percent, a strong achievement in our view."
Furger said he expected volume growth to pick up in the second half driven by strong volume growth of its key customers in the past quarters.
In addition to its sales growth targets the company also said it was still on track to restore profitability to pre-acquisition levels by 2015/2016.
Chief Financial Officer Victor Balli said prices for cocoa beans had increased a lot recently because people feared a severe deficit. "We expected prices for cocoa beans to ease a little in the short term. "We don't quite see that, we think we're likely to see only a small deficit this year."
He added prices were likely to come down a bit in the short term, but should rise in the long run due to increasing demand.
Lindt & Spruengli, whose gold foil-wrapped bunnies are back on supermarket shelves ahead of Easter, said last month high raw material costs and pressure from retailers to keep prices low continued to pose challenges in 2014.
Cocoa prices are hovering near 2-1/2 year highs on fears there may be a world cocoa supply deficit this year. ($1=0.8860 Swiss francs)
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)