Not so sweet: Sugar market review

November 14, 2014
4 min read

Sugar has been receiving some bad publicity recently so this month’s Market Review looks at this 155 million tonne market.*

sugar sales v1

Source: Mintel Market Sizes

The new bad boy

Advice on diet has a history almost as long as mankind starting to use the cook pot. Many products have gone from being “good for you”, to the culinary devil incarnate and back to a super food or, at least, as having a reinstated clean bill of health. Sugar has now become the focus of health concerns. A long time antagonist of dentists, the rest of the medical profession have now expressed concerns in the wake of growing incidences of obesity and diabetes. This is not only confined to the wealthier countries; the Malaysian authorities have been active in curbing intake for the population with the highest per capita in-home consumption in the world. Indeed obesity, to which sugar is a significant contributor, is commonplace in many emerging markets.

Health messages hitting home?

So what has this latest media coverage done to sugar consumption? Looking at retail volume sales over the past 5-6 years, the trend is downwards. Indeed, sales were lower in 2013 than 2007-8 in over 60% of the MMS countries. (See Figure 1). When the growth in large Asian markets of India, Indonesia and China is considered, some of which is due to consumers moving from unpackaged to packaged brands, then the declines elsewhere are emphasised. So is this a sign that the health messages are getting through?

Changing consumption patterns

To answer, we need to add in the missing part of consumption: i.e. sales to the catering sector and the food and drink industry. This reveals a converse picture (See figure 2) with total sales rising in almost two thirds of the countries reviewed. This a reflection of changing eating habits across the world. As affluence has grown, so has the frequency of eating and drinking out: the growth in coffee shops gives testimony to this. Increased urbanisation, with the resultant change in lifestyle, means that fewer households are cooking from raw ingredients and buying more prepared food: Mintel’s GNPD reveals how far and wide in the food and drinks industry that sugar is used as an ingredient.

Step in the alternatives

So despite all the adverse publicity, the underlying trend is for total intake to be increasing: per capita annual consumption rose to over 24kg in 2013. The food industry has a long history of responding to health issues and sugar has long been a target for research into alternatives. However, artificial sweeteners themselves have come under scrutiny and now the emphasis is on finding natural options. The demands on these products are significant: they must perform well in all sorts of cooking processes without, of course, compromising taste in any way. There is considerable innovation with new products being introduced all the time. In Mintel’s Sugar and Sweeteners Report – US, 2014 report, sales of products with added natural sweeteners are challenging artificial products.

A shake out?

So is this the beginning of the end for sugar? The answer has to be no: the product is too fundamentally a part of global diets. Furthermore, sugar, by virtue of its beet and cane forms, has a wide geographical spread of production. Its importance to individual economies is clear by the amount of protection afforded to it across the globe. Indeed, Mintel MMS forecasts that global consumption per capita will continue to rise. However, the increases will be concentrated on those countries where relative intake is currently low and where the market has hitherto been supplied through unstructured channels. As these represent the largest populations in the world, the increases will more than balance those mainly northern European countries where consumption is already falling.

* Human consumption in 33 MMS countries

Peter Ayton
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