The new owner of Tate & Lyle’s EU sugar division says it will take measures "to substantially ease the supply situation" as regards raw cane sugar supplies to the Silvertown refinery in London over the next 18 months.
Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk following the £211m acquisition, American Sugar Refining (ASR) vice president Jonathan Bamburger said: "It's not going to happen overnight, but we hope to make significant progress on this issue"
He added: "We are a very big buyer of raw cane sugar, so there are a lot of things we can do in terms of re-allocating supplies as well as working with growers and just planting more.
"We buy sugar from more than 40 countries, so we have a lot of flexibility."
Staff at Silvertown had been worried about the future of Silvertown given Tate & Lyle’s struggles to secure sufficient raw cane supplies to fill the factory, he acknowledged. "I was talking to the employees about this last Tuesday and was telling them I would hope we could substantially ease the supply situation over the next 18 months.
"The other thing to stress is that we are completely focused on sugar. I'm not saying that Tate & Lyle wasn't, but we want to give the management the opportunities to do things they have wanted to do for some time, and that applies to raw sugar, but also the plants and the brands."
ASR was particularly excited about the Golden Syrup brand, which it acquired as part of the deal along with the Plaistow factory that produces it, he added. "[Site manager] Ian Clark's enthusiasm and energy is great to see and I think there are lots of opportunities to develop the brand and create new product extensions.
"I grew up in England and for me it's just a wonderful brand, so when people were asking me, 'Will you close the Golden Syrup factory?', it's a case of over my dead body. In the world of sugar, it's probably one of the strongest brands in the world."
Union: 'Reassuring' meeting with new management
GMB senior organiser Dave Powell told FoodManufacture.co.uk that a meeting with ASR to discuss its plans for the UK operation had been “very reassuring".
The Plaistow factory was seen as secure given that it was the only factory producing Golden Syrup (using bespoke equipment) and its customer base was UK-focused, he said. However, union members had been worried about Silvertown given the high price of raw cane sugar and the difficulties in securing supplies.
He added: “ASR was prepared to make a public commitment to keeping the UK plants in production and ultimately reaching their full capacity. But it was also talking about investing in the plants and marketing Golden Syrup in the US, so we were quite encouraged.
“But that said, these things should always come with a health warning after what happened with Kraft [which recently said it would close Cadbury’s Keynsham factory just weeks after promising to keep it open].”
Click here for more details on the deal.