Chicago — Having a sweet tooth is going to be more expensive than ever. Sugar prices have more than doubled in the last year and economic analysts expect the upward trend to continue for at least the next three or four months -- maybe a year. Those with a yen for bakery goods and ice cream, products that cannot easily be made from substitute sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, will be hardest hit by the price hikes.
Some small bakers are complaining that sugar price hikes could force them out of business. "We can't raise our prices that much and survive," insists one Iowa baker.
Widespread weather problems with the 1980 sugar crop in the Soviet Union, Australia, Cuba and Africa are the key price boosters. To some extent the increasing use of fructose by soft drink manufacturers, who traditionally account for one-fourth of the sugar market, may ease prices from the demand side. Also, well-funded research on development and uses of dry fructose is under way in California. Increased sugar production spurred by current high prices and an expected tapering off in the increase in consumer demand may also help.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that per capita sugar consumption in the United States now is about 90 pounds a year, the lowest level (except during World War II) in 60 years.