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There's a sugar shock ahead, in a world that's eating smarter

[NEW YORK] Cutting back on sugar? So is much of the world.  The change can be attributed to several factors, according to a new report from Rabobank, including warnings about rising obesity rates, government initiatives like soda taxes, and manufacturers' commitments to reformulating processed foods to lower their sugar content.

Nor are emerging markets likely to provide a robust alternative for the sugar industry. Rising incomes tend to slow the consumption of processed foods, and sugar with them.

"This whole movement has gone beyond the fad stage and become a trend," said Andy Duff, a global strategist at RaboResearch and an author of the report. "It does give the market a shake. We're saying it's something you shouldn't dismiss." 

The trend is evident at the grocery store and in the news. Snacks are getting healthier. People are drinking less soda. Processed foods once heavy on the corn syrup are being replaced with those bearing "clean labels" and shorter ingredients lists-so artificial sweeteners aren't taking sugar's place.

Market voices on:

US cities from Oakland to Philadelphia have started taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, as have countries around the world, including Mexico, where two-thirds of the adult population is obese, and Mauritius, which has a major sugar-producing industry.

Companies are trying to meet consumer demands by announcing cuts to their sugar usage, with reductions or planned reductions coming from Mars Inc, Kellogg Co, Unilever NV, and plenty more. 

Rising incomes in countries where sugar consumption has been growing are changing consumer habits, moving those regions from what the report calls sugar's "rapid-growth zone" to the "moderate-growth zone." 

RaboResearch concludes that "the rate of growth of global sugar consumption in the coming 15 years is likely to be lower than the growth rate seen in the last 15 years." 

Because nobody directly measures sugar consumption, Mr Duff said, "we're operating against a considerable degree of uncertainty." He stressed that sugar consumption is still expected to grow, just at a slower pace than would have been projected a decade ago.

"We're not talking about a reversal here," he said, predicting instead "short-term turbulence and lower growth in the future."