COVID-19 Impact on Sugar in the Food and Beverage Industry
The sugar industry plays an important role in maintaining the economy of the country is also facing several challenges in the course of its journey. Recently, the threat which is posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting sugar sector stakeholders badly. Due to this, the integrated industries all over the world are also facing multiple challenges such as production, transportation among others.
The entire value chain in the sugar sector from sugarcane, sugar, molasses, ethanol, and their subsequent marketing and export has been adversely affected due to the pandemic.
The industry is also facing reduced off-take from associated industries such as beverage and other FMCG companies due to the lockdown. The industries are shut to control the spread of coronavirus, due to which the demand for the sugar declined, and hence sugar sector is declining in generating revenue.
Mainly two of the country which produces sugar and dominating worldwide and also helping socio-economic development of the nation are now facing bigger challenges in this industry. They are Brazil and India in which India accounts for around 15.0 to 25% of the sugar and sugarcane production all over the world. Now, with the pandemic and lockdown, the consumption has fallen as people are made to stay at home and also shutdown in foodservice sectors such as bakeries, hotels, restaurants, and cafes reducing the demand for the sugar.
For instance, according to an article published by Sugar Asia magazine, it is expected that the consumption of sugar could fall to 25 million tons as against 26 million tons which were expected previously.
They have also said that it was found that in the first six months of sugar season from October 2019–March 2020 sugar production has decreased by 22.0% from the last year.
Table 1: Decreasing growth in the sugar production in first six months of sugar season.
Source: Sugar Asia Magazine
The operations for the sugar production were running up to the 3rd month of 2020. Further, it has been noticed that the production started getting affected so far in April on account of labor shortages due to COVID-19 breakout. Due to lack in value and supply chain, some other inputs which are need in sugar products such as Sulphur, lime, bags & other packing material were also not available or were less available due to disruptions in transportation.
Apart from production, the demand from the associated industries has also got reduced. The associated industries are a bakery, confectionery, and beverages among others. For instance, sugar supplies to the beverages manufacturers are greatly decreased as they have put off operations in bottling plants during the summertime when demand for such beverages is high.
Along with these, the food sector such as retail, hotel, and catering which are also larger consumers of sugar has reduced the demand of sugar by national lockdown as all hotels, restaurants, bars, sweetmeat shops, and other miscellaneous food establishments have been closed.
The international sugar prices have fallen by approximately 23.0% between January and April in the year 2020 as large supplier-nations such as Brazil, are switching from ethanol to sugar due to slack global oil demand and low crude oil prices. Thus, exports from India are likely to remain flattish compared with a 25-30% growth expected earlier. For instance, the drop in the export price of white sugar from USD 425 per tonne in February 2020 to USD 355/tonne at present time has resulted in declination in the market value of the sugar industry
Figure: Sugar price decreased from previous year (in USD Lbs.)
FAO has also given its estimates that global sugar prices fallen by 19.1% in March 2020 from February 2020 due to lower demand in the coronavirus outbreak.
In the crisis, sugar industry is facing multiple challenges from the production to trade due to which market value of industry is getting impacted in recent time. But in future, once the vaccine or medicine is made available in market against coronavirus and the spread of COVID-19 is under control, sugar industry will takes its position as of previous years. Again the demand will increase from food industries and food service sector and there will be increase in the value of the sugar market in future.
SUGAR MANUFACTURERS: PERSPECTIVE & INITIATIVES
The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought world to a halt where each and every industry has got an impact of it. This crisis has brought to an unexpected situation through which everyone is going on. With such unscrupulous situation, everyone is trying to get over of it. In all, one of the cannabis related product industry which has fallen badly due to Covid-19 in start of 2020. But rising support from several companies as well as governments are helping the industry to rebuild the position again in market.
The halt in the production of the sugar have led various food and beverages manufacturers to reduce and halt their production due to the shortage of sugar. For instance,
"Will temporarily cease operations due to a lack of raw materials." Production of sugar-based beverages has halted but non-sugar drinks like Diet Coke would continue.”
- Company. Coca-Cola
“Sugar companies in Brazil may face losses if prices continue to trade at 10 cents to 11 cents a pound.”
- Joamir Alves, CEO Grupo Virgolino de Oliveira SA
The government has taken initiatives to reduce the sugar consumption as it their consumption in soft drinks is one of the major causes of obesity, for instance,
“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has been successful in reducing sugar intakes sugar via reformulation, and in raising much needed revenue for children’s services,” it said. “The current sugar levy sugar thresholds should be reduced, the rates increased, and it should be immediately applied to a calorie threshold in sugar sweetened milk and milk-alternative drinks.”
- Katharine Jenner - campaign director of Action on Sugar and Action
"The food industry is feeding us heavily discounted and promoted processed food and drink, full of salt, fat and sugar, giving us little feeling of satiation, which greatly increases our calorie intake. Millions of families face poverty sugar and food insecurity and are unable to access a nutritionally adequate diet.”
- Graham MacGregor from Queen Mary University on Sugar and Action
High demand of the ethanol due to their utilization in sanitizer production and high demand of the sanitizers have led government to push up the production of sugar.
“The situation at present is such that even a mandatory 5 per cent blending of ethanol with petrol, as committed by the government to protect the environment three years ago, would be difficult to meet as a result of a short supply of sugarcane. With an expected fall in the cane output, the 20 per cent ethanol blending, which the government is planning to make mandatory, is unlikely to be practical,”
- Deepak Desai, the chief consultant of ethanolindia.net
“India should implement a more “ambitious” biofuel program that will help its sugar mills to increase production of ethanol and “balance the world sugar market”
- Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association/ UNICA.
“Retailers are seeing a surge in demand while foodservice customers and themselves with more product than they need,” he said. “We are doing everything possible to connect customers together to move the extra product to where it’s needed most, while adapting our manufacturing plants to create a more agile supply system.”
- Mike Wagner, managing director of Cargill North America
“China represents more than 70% of the stevia leaves grown globally and is, therefore, a key supply base for stevia sweeteners, “Sweet Green Fields was among the rest factories approved by the Chinese government to re-open post-COVID-19 and is currently producing and supplying customers.”
- Shasha Yu, marketing director, Sweet Green Fields
“People tend to consider aspartame as a commodity but [we] turned it into a new ingredient that traveled by plane,” The air shipments are extreme – it was really at the very start of the crisis when people woke up and found out they would be out of product – but it shows you how crucial the role of aspartame in food is. I turned it into a joke, saying that our aspartame is traveling VIP.”
- Youssef Hamayet Elmili, global sales director at HSWT
Source: Company Websites, Magazines, Nutrition Journals, Portals
The threat posed by the growing pandemic novel coronavirus (COVID-19), has been the most recent once and it is impacting sugar industry stakeholders and its integrated industries, all over the world. Brazil and India are the top producers of sugar across the globe, each producing nearly 25% and 15% of global sugar and sugarcane, respectively. The development of COVID-19 will have a direct effect on the production and consumption of the sugar industry in the short term.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been putting pressure on the sugar consumption patterns, complemented with a reduced off-take from beverage and other FMCG companies amid the lockdown across multiple countries. As the beverage and sweetener sector is the bulk consumer of sugar, it is likely to adversely affect the consumption owing to the precautionary measures of avoiding social gatherings.
These developments and a drop in crude oil prices have caused a ripple effect on international sugar prices. The globe has witnessed a sharp drop in sugar price, wherein in March 2020, the global prices fell steeply by 22%.
Owing to the petroleum crisis, Brazil has planned to increase their sugar production, to offset the decline in sugarcane consumption from the ethanol industry. This is further expected to affect the prices of sugar in the international market. Further, due to COVID-19, temporary disruptions in the supply chain have been experienced by the millers.
Owing to the pandemic, there have been major shifts in consumer preferences, with the increasing awareness of a healthy lifestyle. Consumers have started substituting conventional ingredients with healthier alternatives. This would also affect the sugar industry. With “no-added-sugar” and “high protein, low carbs” diet trend among consumers, the demand for sugar was already offset in the past, while this trend is expected to be boosted in the coming years. Hence the future of the sugar industry is expected to witness steady demand, majorly from the beverage industry in the coming years, even after the COVID-19 phase.