A social media campaign of sorts is gaining traction over the past few months. Keyboard warriors – egged on by electronic media anchors – are calling on public to jettison refined white sugar in favour of gur (jaggery), considered to be a traditional sweetener indigenous to subcontinent, that does not undergo the chemical-laden refining process by mills.
Although the campaign carries health-awareness undertones, it is primarily a call to social action. Unlike refined sugar, gur (jaggery) is (presumed to be) produced by cottage industries and non-registered small enterprises. Considering that a two-third rise in refined sugar price (over 30 months) has failed to suppress Pakistan’s sweet-tooth, it is hoped that a switch to gur will help avoid lining the pockets of the sugar millers.
But gur has never been cheaper than white sugar, and with good reason. While white refined sugar consists purely of sucrose, gur is unrefined and thus also includes molasses. Based on CPI data, national average retail price of gur over the past nine years has been at least 1.25 times greater than the processed-milled variety.
But does the price data carry any insights for the sweetener price spiral witnessed in the domestic market since the incumbents came to power in mid-2018? Turns out that on nation-wide basis, gur and refined sugar prices move largely in tandem with each other, with a positive correlation coefficient of 0.95x. In fact, over the last decade, gur prices have increased at a one percentage point higher CAGR than refined sugar prices across the country.
So, what does that say about the earnest cause of boycotting refined sugar, especially since prices began to rise 30 months ago? Turns out, gur prices have risen at a marginally higher rate since March 2018 (when domestic refined sugar prices were at their bottom), with the growth momentum being particularly higher till July 2020, only slowing down in recent months.
Is gur really all that better then? Turns out, when it comes to choice of sweetener, it might be better to listen to your cardiologist than Whatsapp campaigners after all.