Home for the Holidays? Hold the sugar, please

Wed Dec 23, 2015 6:40pm EST
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By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bagged or boxed, brown or powdered, Americans are buying markedly less sugar this year, a trend nowhere more noticeable than during the holidays when home-baking picks up.

In the biggest decline in sugar sales in at least four years, purchases have fallen 4.4 percent in the year through October, according to Nielsen data, a drop grocers attribute to growing consumer consciousness over the negative health effects of sugar such as a higher risk of diabetes and obesity.

And they are seeing that trend through the holiday season, when sugar sales traditionally peak. In the month of December, retail sales of sugar typically account for almost double most other months of the year.

That could pose a challenge to the politically-connected sugar industry, dominated by the Fanjul family which owns Domino Sugar, C&H, and Florida Crystals, and Louis Dreyfus, which operates the second-biggest U.S. refiner Imperial Sugar.

Stew Leonard, Jr., chief executive of the Stew Leonard's chain of four supermarkets in New York and Connecticut, has begun paring back shelf space devoted to sugar as he braces for another year-over-year decline in December sugar sales.

"Sugar is a number one enemy," Leonard said of public concern. "You can see that people are trying to cut back on it and not eating as much sugar as they used to."

The decline in bagged and packaged sugar purchases may reflect a trend toward less baking and more consumption of store-bought desserts, which contain as much, if not more, sugar.

The steady years-long shift away from bagged and packaged sugar comes as the so-called 'war on sugar' intensifies in the United States, with bitter debates in the past two years between government, food companies, and advocates over proposals to add labels to products containing added sweeteners.   Continued...