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Rotting Teeth and Fatty Organs Turn Australians Sour on Sugar

Rebecca Keenan
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Rotting Teeth and Fatty Organs Turn Australians Sour on Sugar

(Bloomberg) -- Australians seem to be turning sour on sugar.

Consumption has been flat-lining, and appetite for the sweet stuff probably won’t grow much at all medium term as people shift to low sugar, diet and sugar-free options, said Charles Clack, a Rabobank analyst in Sydney. Some state governments have been trying to discourage consumption by displaying graphic images of rotting teeth and fatty organs on buses and billboards.

“Health is a large factor behind this trend, offsetting the positive influence of stable domestic population growth,” said Clack. Australia isn’t the only place where people appear to be wary of over-indulging in sugar. Demand in the European Union has hardly changed in recent years, and several countries have imposed taxes on sugar consumption, including the U.K. and South Africa.

Yet Asia’s taking up the slack, eating and drinking more of the sweetener than ever before. Since the region accounts for over 40% of the world’s sugar consumption, global demand has been climbing steadily, expanding 15% in the past decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not only has Asian usage been rising, but it has more room to grow, with populations expanding and per capita consumption low in some countries. In Australia, people consumed 10.8 kilograms per person of sugar and sweeteners in 2018, while consumption in North America was 11.5 kilograms, according to Euromonitor data. In China, people ate or drank just 5.5 kilograms per person and in India it was 8.9 kilograms.

Health issues “are not exclusive to Australia but, with lower per capita consumption, there is a less pressing agenda in India and China to address sugar over-consumption,” said Clack. Given the lower sugar ingestion, health concerns are less prevalent, he said. He expects both those Asian nations to show signs of increasing sugar consumption through this year.

Moderation Important

Demand in some Asian nations is considerably higher than developed countries. In Malaysia, one of the top users in Asia Pacific with consumption of 31.5 kilograms per person of sugar and sweeteners last year, the country’s top producer of refined sugar says it’s unfair to just blame sugar for diseases.

“I disagree saying that only sugar causes diabetes. It’s about the way of life: how you manage your diet, exercising, taking things in moderation,” said Khairil Anuar Aziz, executive director of MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd. “Some people may not like it when I say this because I’m in the sugar business, but logically we as human beings need sugar as well, and moderation with a balanced lifestyle is very important,” he said in an interview.

China Market

MSM is hoping to tap rising demand in China, and is in the final stages of discussions to set up partnerships in the nation’s downstream industry. It also wants to sell sugar for popular snacks such as bubble tea and for health drinks.

Rising demand may help bring relief to farmers. The global market could swing to a 4.3 million metric ton deficit in 2019-20 from this year’s 1.1 million ton surplus, Rabobank said in March. Futures in New York are broadly flat in 2019 at around 12 cents a pound after plunging about 40% in the past two years.

Still, things aren’t likely to change much in Australia.

For Daniel Jackson, 40, who started a food supplies business seven years ago with two small delivery trucks in Perth, Western Australia, the change in sentiment has been a boon. He’s moved to a warehouse five times the size and doubled his fleet as demand for alternative products booms.

He sells 100 kilograms a week of coconut sugar, a substitute for the mainstream version, and about 2,000 cartons of sugar-free kombucha drinks, from nothing two years ago. “I never intended to build a health food product business, but that’s where it’s ended up,” said Jackson, of Artisan Foods.

(Updates price in 10th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Anuradha Raghu.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Keenan in Perth at rkeenan5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi at ralrikabi@bloomberg.net, James Poole, Anna Kitanaka

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