TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — While sugar users and producers typically are on opposite sides of the aisle when it comes to U.S. sugar policy, common ground between the two groups was noted at the International Sweetener Symposium, sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance, which represents sugar beet and cane growers, processors and refiners.
“The current system is better for everyone,” Paul Steed, senior global price risk lead for sugar, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, said on Aug. 6. “We’re not that concerned about prices; we’re more concerned about availability.”
He noted that Mars’ just-in-time delivery meant that there was not a lot of storage capacity at its plants, adding that the suspension agreements between the United States and Mexico have stabilized prices at a higher level. He noted that severe volatility a few years back “didn’t serve anyone well.”
But Mr. Steed identified shortcomings of the current U.S. sugar program, which sugar users have unsuccessfully sought to change in the past several farm bills: the current program’s marketing allotments discourage domestic expansion; tariff-rate quota restrictions risk timing mismatches between market needs and cane refining capacity; and sugar containing product imports of more than 1 million tons are not made with U.S. labor or U.S. sugar. He also noted that the current T.R.Q. system was based on shipping patterns from 40 years ago.
“Every pound of sugar sold in the United States is under some form of quota,” Mr. Steed said.
But Mars’ former focus on price has shifted to food safety and sustainability, Mr. Steed said, which was consumer driven.
“It’s time to embrace a sense of urgency in sustainability,” he said.
Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, said at the symposium that he appreciated sugar users’ willingness to pay a premium for a sustainable sugar supply, made possible by the U.S. sugar program. He noted the U.S. sugar industry’s high standards and the benefits of a dependable, safe, responsible and sustainable supply of sugar, adding that the sugar industry served as the stock holder for users’ just-in-time delivery. He added that consumers demand to know how products are made and are willing to pay more for ethical production practices.
Mr. Steed noted it was the first time in his career that there has been debate about sugar demand. At the same time, he said it was “incredibly difficult to recipe away from sugar,” noting the unique properties that sugar brings to products, and that “a lot of substitutes aren’t healthier anyway.”
“We feel very good about the growth opportunities in our market,” Mr. Steed said. “We’re very skeptical that demand is down.”