Swiss chocolate maker Lindt & Spruengli expects like-for-like sales to increase by another 6% this year, at the lower end of its long-term target.

This is a sign that a shrinking overall market in the US is making growth more difficult. 

However, the company said it was counting on a gradual improvement in consumers' appetite for chocolate treats and easing raw material costs to help it meet its long-term goals of 6-8% organic sales growth over the coming years. 

Global chocolate demand is down as consumers tend to prefer healthier snacks.

But Lindt has so far bucked that trend by marketing its Easter bunnies and Lindor chocolate balls as high-quality treats customers can indulge in at special moments. 

"We expect the environment in 2017 to be quite similar to 2016. All the challenges are still there," Dieter Weisskopf, who took over as chief executive in October, said at the company's headquarters in Kilchberg near Zurich. 

He said order levels for Easter looked healthy but a repositioning of the Russell Stover brand in the US market that weighed on sales and margins last year was continuing and lower cocoa bean prices would have a positive impact only in 2018.

Lindt faced difficulties in 2016 due to high cocoa bean and butter prices, subdued consumer sentiment in its biggest markets and price-sensitive trade partners. 

Net profit rose 10% to 420 million Swiss francs ($415.2m) last year, affording a 10% rise in the dividend, in line with analysts' forecasts. 

Lindt said in January its underlying sales rose 6% in 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing food and beverage companies, ahead of Hershey at 0.8%, Mondelez's chocolate division at 2% and Nestle's confectionery business at 1.8%.