2021 Intl Sweetener Colloquium: Key Take-Aways
The IDFA and the Sweeteners Users Association executed their first (and hopefully last) virtual gathering last week. Many of us were bundled in sweaters and fuzzy socks during a cold week in both the Midwest and in the Northeast. But absent the normal distractions of golf courses, pool side cabanas, and tropical drinks, the talks were well executed and the audience never more focused.
As usual, the speakers did not always agree on everything; however, there were some key take-aways. The list is not comprehensive, but rather includes a bit of past year analysis and future year predictions:
1) “The only constant is change” was a familiar mantra as fortunes were made and lost due to high volatility in supply and demand of commodities due to COVID.
2) Speakers predict both a good beet and sugar crop in 2021, but note the mantra in #1.
3) An unanswered question: If the 20-21 beet crop is expected to be so good, then why are refined beet sugar prices still so high?
4) There appears to be a lot of raw sugar in storage in Louisiana, but difficult and costly to get out due to the reality of unusually expensive freight costs.
5) During 2020, the challenge of measuring the amount of sugar imported by non-reporters created a false impression of a supply shortfall. This resulted in an increase in imports that may not have been needed.
6) Most speakers expected a significant INCREASE in demand for sweeteners as the economy opens up and people start going out again. But some remained bearish believing the effects of COVID will have a longer negative impact on attendance at large sporting and music events and dining out at restaurants where a lot of soda is consumed.
7) Is demand for sugar going down due to health concerns? The expectation is sugar demand will not change dramatically, but the demand for HFCS continues to decline in the US.
8) On the global level, public health initiatives and sugar taxes are increasing, leading to a decrease in consumption several countries.
“I was too fat”, lamented Boris Johnson after his struggle with COVID and upon launch of a national anti-obesity campaign.
9) Alternative sweeteners are improving in taste, but still expensive.
10) Front of pack sugar labeling may compel more consumer awareness of sugar consumption. As there is no analytical method to differentiate added from inherent sugar in a food product, the FDA must rely on record-keeping by the food manufacturers.
11) During the past decade, global trade has significantly reduced the numbers of people living in extreme poverty. The trade war with China, the primary buyer of US ag products, stressed the system mid-year, but global trade appears to be returning to a more balanced state including new engagement with regional trade agreements.
We certainly missed gathering together this year but are hopeful that the vaccines will be leaving COVID in the dust as we continue to seek to be the sugar supplier of choice to the global food industry.