Sugar is produced in more than 120 countries and global production is now more than 174 Million tons a year. Approximately 70% of this is produced from sugar cane, largely grown in tropical countries, and the remaining 30% is produced from sugar beet, a root crop grown mostly in northern temperate zones. The primary use and market for sugar is the food industry, as sugar is used as a sweetener, preservative, texture modifier, fermentation substrate, flavoring and coloring agent, bulking agent and to add decoration to food items, such as cakes.
Proimex is counted amongst the preeminent Exporters and Suppliers of Global Sugar. Due to our ever growing network of proven suppliers our trade teams can source, secure and deliver bulk sugar at competitive prices anywhere in the world. Contact our trade desk for the latest prices and delivery schedules.
Sugar cane is essentially a giant grass that grows up to 3 meters in height in tropical and semitropical regions. It needs rainfall and sunlight to grow and the majority of the sugar cane production is not irrigated, relying solely on rainfall. Harvesting the sugar cane is performed either manually or mechanically, and in both cases the cane is cut close to the ground and the leaves removed. The plant re-grows each year from the original root, but requires replacement after an average 7-year period.
The harvested sugar cane is transported as quickly as possible to the sugar mill to maximize the extraction of the sugar. The sugar mill is typically located close by the sugar cane growing area in order to avoid delays, reduce transport costs and related environmental impacts.
At the mill, the cane will be crushed and the juices will be collected. The cane juice will then be cleaned using slaked lime, and then reduced to syrup via boiling off of excess water. Finally, the syrup is crystallized through additional boiling allowing sugar crystals to grow. Once the sugar is in a crystalline state, any excess liquids are spun out in centrifuges and the crystals are dried with hot air. Once dried, the crystalline sugar is placed in storage, awaiting shipping.
The remaining cane fiber material is often used to generate energy (co-generation) required for the processing plant. Usually, these local mills produce raw sugar that requires refining to a pure form; however, in some cases the sugar mills have been modified to enable production of direct consumption sugars.
Raw sugar is shipped in bulk ocean-going vessels from the sugar mill directly to port-based refineries, which will remove any remaining impurities and color from the raw sugar. Once refined, the sugar can then be tailored to meet the customers’ requirements. A full portfolio of sugars is produced in crystal, liquid and syrup form.
White beet sugar is made from the beets in a single process rather than the two steps required for cane sugar. The beets are harvested in the autumn and early winter and transported to the factory by large trucks. Beet is a rotational crop requiring almost 4 times the land area of an equivalent sugar cane crop. The beets have to be thoroughly washed and separated from mud, stones, leaves and other debris and waste before being processed.
The clean beet is then sliced into thin chips to increase the surface area of the beet for enhanced sugar extraction. These chips are placed in a diffuser with hot water for around an hour. Afterwards, the exhausted beet slices are run through screw presses to extract as much of the juice as possible. The pressed beet is then turned into pellets, which are used as a constituent of animal feed.
The raw juice will usually contain about 14% sugar and it must be cleaned before it can be used for sugar production. Once cleaned through a process known as carbonation, the liquid is processed in a multi-stage evaporator to reduce it to a sugar syrup.
Finally, that syrup is placed into a very large pan, typically holding 60 tons or more of sugar syrup, where the remaining water is boiled off until sugar crystals grow.
The wet crystalline sugar is then spun in centrifuges to separate the liquid. The crystals are then fully dried with hot air prior to being packed and/or stored ready for shipping.
The final sugar is white and ready for use, whether in the kitchen or by an industrial user, such as a soft drink manufacturer.
A byproduct of the beet refining process is beet molasses, which is usually turned into a cattle feed, or sent to a fermentation plant such as a distillery for alcohol production.
WHO IS DOMINATING SUGAR EXPORTS?
Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer of white, also known as centrifugal or fully refined, sugar with annual production in 2014/15 of almost 36 million tonnes of sugar in 2014 accounting for slightly more than 20% of the total global production. Brazil’s exports accounted for about 45% of the worldwide sugar exports last year. While much of the sugar cane grown in Brazil is used for refined sugar, a large portion of crop has been used for the production of ethanol to supply the Brazilian market for motor fuels and has made the country the largest user of ethanol in the world.
India, the world’s second largest producer at 29.5 million tonnes, is also the world’s largest consumer, leaving it outside of export and import rankings.
Thailand has become a significant exporter of raw sugar in recent years, with the country now ranking second only behind Brazil. With annual production in 2014 of 11 million tonnes, up from 9.7 million tonnes in 2010; and with flat domestic consumption during the same period at around 2.5 million tonnes, the country is a significant source of raw sugar for the rest of the world.
WHO IS THE BIGGEST IMPORTER OF SUGAR?
China is one of the top five producing countries in the world at 11 million tonnes in 2014 and its increasing population and growing middle class has led to increasing consumption. Since 2011 the country’s sugar imports have more than doubled, growing from 2.1 million tonnes in that year to 4.8 million tonnes in 2014, making it the world’s largest importer.
The US produces about 7.7 million tonnes per year, but faces a net consumption shortfall of 3.1 million tonnes, which is met through imports. These imports are mainly supplied from Mexico that aggressively competes for the US domestic market. Trade regulations and quota systems are severely impacting sugar flows between US and it’s adjacent countries Mexico, Canada and consequently prices.
Similarly, the European Union, though a significant producer and a region in which sugar consumption has declined in recent years, will typically import more sugar than it exports in any given year. In 2014 the EU countries exported 1.5 million tonnes, while importing some 3 million tonnes. The latter highly influenced by trade regulations, price regulations and export quotas set by the European Union.
The EU has announced the ending of sugar quotas in 2017 as well as the ending of the export limit and guaranteed prices offered to sugar beet growers. This is widely expected to have a significant impact on the players, supply chain and prices, as European prices should fall to general world market levels. As a result consolidation in the industry is expected as producers and marketers jostle for position.
Since the cost of production of White Sugar within the EU is relatively low (versus refined Raw Sugar), its production is expected to increase substantially after the EU market liberalization. With the ending of export limits, Europe’s position as a net importer could change significantly.
SUGAR AND THE PHYSICAL MARKETS
Sugar is derived from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Given that sugar sourced from Beet requires a single stage of processing, beet sugar is always produced and traded in its “white” consumable form, as opposed to cane sugar, which is traded in either a raw form after milling, or a white form after refining. Since the refining step requires significant cost, white sugar is traded at a premium over raw sugar.
Raw sugar supply is very concentrated in Brazil and Thailand, but raw sugar refining is more dispersed, as is consumption of white sugar. Raw sugar trading has seen growth with the advent of refineries being built near the ports where sugar is imported and today a large portion of the global sugar trade is in raw, or unrefined cane sugar, it is however a somewhat consolidated and bulk orientated market.
The expansion of the white sugar trade has been tied to the emergence of the EU as a large exporter and the rise of sugar demand in the Arab world and Black Africa in the 1970s. For many years, the EU had a market share of 50% in white sugar, but the growth of refining capacity at destination (in particular on the North African Continent and the Middle East) has helped re-direct some of the white sugar demand.
Additionally, low quality white sugars have begun to displace high quality white sugars. Today refineries at destination represent 60% of global white sugar exports. Since white sugar directly flows to food industrials and end consumers, the white sugar market is much more fragmented than the raw sugar market. The ten largest importing countries representing less than 45% of white sugar demand, and almost endless number of specifications, logistic varieties and buyers.
The futures contract for sugar is traded at the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Brazilian Mercantile and Futures Exchange (BF&M), Kansai Commodities Exchange (KEX), Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), National Commodity Exchange Limited (NCEL), National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) and Zhengzou Commodity (CZCE) Exchange. Sugar options are also offered as several exchanges. The most important exchange is the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and sugar prices at this exchange function as a benchmark for sugar prices.
These heavily regulated markets are tough for some of our clients to access so contact our trade desk to discover the secondary markets with often cheaper and more supplier/buyer friendly conditions.
SUGAR MARKET PRICES
The sugar commodity market liquidity and price level can be impacted by a number of factors. Historically, Sugar production is subsidized and tariffed by governments to secure local supply or to support farmers. Despite trade agreements and loosening regulations, today Sugar remains one of the most heavily subsidized commodities worldwide and changing government policies significantly impact price levels and sugar trade flows.
Since the impact of governments is so dominant, one could say that ‘the real price of sugar’ is actually unknown. One thing is clear, given it’s cost of production, and the recent developments from a supply and demand perspective, in a a truly competitive trading environment, sugar prices might be significantly less on the secondary markets so contact Proimex today for latest quantities and pricing.
In recent years, the supply side seems to have dominated price developments; world stocks and stocks to usage ratios have been historically high. There are, however a number of other factors significantly influencing Sugar price levels. First and foremost is the demand for ethanol, as biofuels become more appealing to buyers when the price of oil rises. As with all agriculture crops, weather forecasts, crop area
and yield projects influence sugar prices. On the demand side, the growing population and increasing income levels in the Asia Pac region have increased the consumption and demand for sugar and that trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Finally, increasing awareness of the health issues associated with too much sugar in the diet is having a negative impact on demand or growth of demand, in particular in the markets in the Northern Hemisphere.
Sugar is a complex commodity. It is traded at different geographical and functional locations so contact Proimex to source and secure your next shipment.
PHYSICAL SUGAR TRADING
As sugar is a processed commodity rather then a harvested commodity, sugar is traded in one of its processed forms. Trading and price formation requires references and standards and, over the years a set of quality standards were formed. Additional price formation complexity originates from the need of the global sugar consumption industries to set their own product specifications (e.g. Coca Cola spec) and the market increasingly moving from bulk to containerized logistics and trade.
When it comes to quality and specifications, the International Commission for Uniform Methods of Sugar Analysis is the provider of the ICUMSA standards and an ICUMSA rating is an international unit for expressing the purity of the sugar in solution, and is directly related to the color of the sugar.
White Refined Sugar - ICUMSA 45
A highly refined sugar product, Icumsa 45 is easily recognizable by its distinctive sparkling white color and pure sucrose taste. It is considered to be the world’s leading consumer sugar that possesses a standard by which other types of sugar are measured against.
Sugar - ICUMSA 100
Icumsa 100 is refined sugar that has a lower grade and lower production cost than Icumsa 45. Having a light white color, this kind of sugar does not possess the visual appeal of sparkling white Icumsa 45, however, Icumsa 100 is still a food grade sugar that is safe for human consumption.
White Crystal Sugar - ICUMSA 150
Is recommended for most customers since it contains fewer chemicals, it is more readily available, and it is a lower cost replacement to the traditional white refined sugar, Icumsa 45. It is produced by crystallization process, with the absence of chemical refining.
VHP Sugar - ICUMSA 600-1200
The term VHP (Very High Polarity) is widely understood to mean that 99.4 percent (or expressed as a polarization of 99.4) of the total mass of the raw sugar is pure sucrose, and that only 0.6 percent or less is waste material. Such a relatively low contaminants level, cause this sugar to have a light brown in color. VHP remains in high demand, as it is much cheaper and easier to refine than standard raw sugars.