Ragus take steps to combat continuing Brexit uncertainty

Sep 13 2019

With yet another Brexit deadline approaching, businesses are unclear about almost all aspects of a post-EU future. For Ragus, this means taking measures to reassure our customers by replacing conjecture with clarity.

Has anything changed for the sugar industry since the last Brexit deadline?

We are still no nearer to a concrete plan for Britain’s future outside the European Union (EU). Plans made by Theresa May, such as the potentially damaging proposed sugar tariffs discussed in my earlier blog, have not been echoed by Boris Johnson. In fact, continuing with the sugar tariffs example, Johnson said following his election that he would prefer to scrap tariffs altogether.

This level of discontinuity is frustrating. Not only is the most recent Brexit deadline of 31st October fast approaching, the sugar industry is currently in the process of negotiating contracts for the new sugar marketing year, further compounding the situation. As a result, businesses across the country are making decisions on a day-by-day basis. We all hope for clarity as soon as possible so we can begin to properly plan for the future.

The situation, however, is by no means insurmountable. Ragus is always fully equipped to meet customer needs and guarantee supply chains continue to run smoothly. Brexit is no different, and we have already taken specific Brexit-induced steps over the past few years.

What steps have Ragus taken to ensure customer needs are met both pre and post-Brexit?

As was the case in March, the looming Brexit deadline has caused many of our customers to stockpile. Ragus always advise against this approach. Stockpiling goods is expensive and there often isn’t the room in warehouses to store all the necessary goods. More on the effect stockpiling has on the sugar supply chain can be found in the following blog.

To mitigate the need to stockpile, we have globally sourced sugars from countries that will be tariff-free. As a result, Ragus has several months’ worth of sugar in reserve that we can quickly call upon to help go towards meeting customer requirements. Having this amount of sugar contracted and agreed to also means our customers will to some extent be shielded from the potential price increases caused by a potential post-Brexit €150/tonne tariff on white refined sugar imported from the EU.

Having this reserve also means we can deal with the predicted three-year low in sugar production. Total global output is expected to fall 6.4 million tonnes to 180 million tonnes overall. This will put a tightness on the world supply that we can effectively manage.

Ensuring customer needs are always met is central to operations at Ragus. That’s why we have tried to combat Brexit uncertainty by agreeing to contracts that allow us to access several months worth of reserve sugar.

Trying to make sense of conjecture: what does the future hold?

Planning for all possible outcomes is crucial to being suitably prepared for whatever Brexit we are dealt. Such is its importance to the country, one might expect that a specific food and agriculture deal is negotiated either prior or soon after 31st October, providing this ends up being the day Britain leaves the EU. As it currently stands, there appear to be three possible outcomes for the near future:

1. The EU grant a short extension to the current deadline in exchange for a sizeable divorce payment, meaning we leave without a deal and either tariff-free or on the terms outlined by May earlier in the year

2. The EU gives the UK extension until Christmas, resulting in a general election. If a Conservative-Brexit Party majority then wins, sugar could be subject to high import and export duties to and from the EU.

3. A remain-backing party or coalition wins the general election and calls another referendum.

It is entirely possible none of these happen. Such is the level of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, making solid predictions seems futile. That is why Ragus has ensured it is robustly equipped to deal with the situation and ensure all our customers, and in turn, their consumers, remain well stocked and satisfied.

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Taking sugar away is not the answer

Aug 30 2019

The government’s recent sugar-centric attempts to tackle the obesity crisis may be providing only half an answer.

Sugar in the spotlight

Sugar’s recent journey to being firmly on the government’s radar has been several years in the making. It began with the discovery of so-called “hidden” sugars in our foods, in turn leading to an examination of the sugar content in soft drinks. Faced by the societal pressure this generated, government decided to act, introducing the UK’s sugar tax on 6 April 2018.

At Ragus, we have seen attitudes towards sugar peak and trough like this for decades. The acceptance of its presence in our food and drinks follows trends. One minute sugar-free is all the rage, the next consumers are told to embrace the natural benefits of sugar.

Estimated to raise £520 million, the sugar tax will be used to fund sport in primary schools in a bid to address the root cause of the country’s obesity crisis. Initial signs show it is fulfilling this money generating objective. As of last November, £154 million has already been generated.

These numbers make for good reading for lawmakers but beg questions. Anecdotal evidence alone shows that consumers are now turning to cheaper sugar-free options. Is the correct approach to drive them towards these, particularly given that the sugar alternatives they use are not always a healthier bet?

White Sugar

Simply removing sugar from our foods and drinks does not provide a long term solution.

Zero sugar is not always better

The government may be targeting sugar in a bid to deal with the obesity crisis, but have they failed to examine what happens when people choose to consume the alternatives? Often, zero calorie, zero sugar foods and drinks are not healthier. This is because the calories in/calories out view of weight loss ignores the fact that our bodies are complex and nuanced machines.

Zero calorie foods and drinks dampen natural fat burners. Highly processed foods, where they are often found, are essentially pre-digested foods. As such, the body’s natural fat burners do not kick in and become supressed and dormant.

Diet soft drinks, many of which were reformulated after the introduction of the sugar tax to contain no sugar, are equally as misleading. Their sweet taste informs the body to expect the arrival of calories. When this subsequently does not happen, our hunger instinct is triggered, meaning we simply reach for more food.

More needs to be done than erasing sugar

Pinning the blame solely on sugar seems unfair and narrow-minded, especially when we look at the alternatives. A more holistic approach is needed, one that also addresses the misconceptions behind calorific content and the role of fat.

Sugar is essential to our foods and drinks. Wantonly stripping it out can cause more problems than it creates. Initiatives like the sugar tax may have won plaudits, but are they just a short-term fix to an issue that requires addressing through wholesale and lasting change?

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Striking a fair balance: insecticides and sugar beet growing

Aug 08 2019

With increasing pressure from the EU on growers, a solution needs to be found that controls insects but promotes high yields.

Why do sugar beet growers need insecticides?

An insecticide is a substance designed to kill insects, in either adult, larvae or egg form. It is vital to modern day agriculture and is seen as being one of the key drivers behind the enormous boost in agricultural production in the 20th century. This does not mean their use doesn’t present issues, with many having the potential to significantly alter ecosystems and disrupt food chains.

As sugar beet is susceptible to the highly damaging Virus Yellows that are transmitted by aphids, insecticides are essential to ensuring yields remain as high as possible. There are three main yellowing viruses: beet yellowing virus (BYV), beet mild yellowing virus (BMYV) and beet chlorosis (BChV). These can be only be distinguished from one and other through laboratory testing, although each results in varying amount of damage to sugar beet yields.

Such is the potency of all yellowing viruses, the outbreaks of the early 1970s caused many growers to have to give up on beet altogether. Entire fields can quickly be engulfed by the disease, resulting in yield losses of up to 50%. What’s more, there are currently no resistant varieties of sugar beet available to growers across the globe.

Carried by aphids, Virus Yellows have the potential to quickly devastate livelihoods.

What insecticides protect sugar beet crops?

Sugar beet is protected from Virus Yellows by using neonicotinoids as a seed treatment control measure. Developed to mimic the chemical properties of nicotine, the members of this insecticide family used to treat sugar beet seeds include thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid. These are favoured by farmers due to the speed and ease with which they prevent the development of several potentially devastating diseases.

But, as is the case with any insecticide, neonicotinoids do not come without their ecological challenges. When first introduced, they were initially believed to have relatively low toxicity to any insects other than the ones they are designed to kill. This assumption was proved to be wrong after a dramatic loss of beehive numbers in 2006 proved that neonicotinoids were in fact lethal to bumble bees.

As well as killing bees, these crucial pesticides can also attribute to colony collapse disorder (CCD), whereby the majority of worker bees vacate a hive and leave just a handful of nurse bees and a queen behind. In turn, the hive can no longer effectively function, and, as the name suggests, collapses and eventually ceases to exist. Although long anecdotally believed to be caused by neonicotinoids, the link was made concrete in an essay published in the peer-review journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Due to evidence of this nature and in a bid to protect bee populations, the European Union (EU) restricted the uses of neonicotinoids in 2013 before completely banning their use on any outdoor crop in 2018.

What has been the impact of the EU’s decision to ban neonicotinoids?

As with anything that pits environmental and ecological considerations against the productivity and profits of farmers, the ban has been highly divisive. Environmentalists labelled the initial ban as a “significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations” that was backed up by “crystal clear” public support. Conversely, the UK government, who along with 8 other EU member states voted against the ban, claimed “we did not support the proposal for a ban because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it.”

Unsurprisingly, the reaction from sugar beet growers to the wholesale ban has been overwhelmingly negative, with some even going as far as to suggest it could disrupt yields for the next decade. Although planting fell in Germany for the current season, the UK yield is expected to be at least as high as last year, with this being all the more pleasing giving that the 2019 season is the first to bear the brunt of a total neonicotinoids ban.

The fact that only one season has passed post-ban also shows that more time is needed to draw useful conclusions from its impact. With virus-resistant sugar beet crops at least several years way from being commercially viable, the only interim solution seems to be on that satisfies growers without leading to destruction of bee populations. It remains to be seen what this is, with many farmers still seeing the EU’s decision as short-sighted and not based on concrete scientific evidence.

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How is sugar used in brewing?

Jul 25 2019

You can’t brew without sugar, so what exactly is its role when producing ales, lagers, porters and stouts?

No alcohol without sugar

When making a drink such as an ale, lager, porter or stout, the basic principle is to extract the sugars from grains (typically barley or malt) that yeast can then turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). To achieve this, grains are first malted (dried out and then heated) before then going through a process called mashing (like porridge), in which they are steeped in very hot but not boiling water in order to activate the enzyme that releases its sugars. After this, the resulting sugar-rich water, known as wort, is drained, boiled and hops are added for flavour.

The next stage in the process is where sugar plays its vital part. Once the wort has been strained and filtered, the brewing is complete, and fermentation can begin. To kickstart this, yeast is added to the wort, after which it feeds on the sugar present, producing CO2 and alcohol in the process. Depending on the desired end product, the wort is now left for a set number of weeks at a specific temperature, before it is bottled, aged and ready to be sold as an ale, lager, ale, stout or porter.

The above can be carried out either by relying on the sugar naturally present in the mashed grain or by adding the sugar as an adjunct directly after the mashing process. There was once a time when the majority of malt beers, those produced without any added adjunct sugar, were seen as a superior product, with the use of any external sugar seen as solely the preserve of large scale commercial brewers. Not only has this stance softened, but it ignores the fact that sugar has been used in brewing for centuries and adds colour and flavour as well as speeding up fermentation.

Brewing sugar is essential to ensuring beers of all styles have the perfect taste and colour and ferment at the correct rate.

What is brewing sugar?

In theory, any sugar can be used in brewing. However, for a superior end product that is rich in both the desired colour and flavour and fermentabilities, we always recommend using a brewing sugar. At Ragus Sugars, these are custom formulated to match our clients’ requirements, meaning that we can offer sugars to suit a wide variety of beer styles.

The main difference between a specifically formulated brewing sugar and ordinary household sugar (sucrose) is that the former is mono-saccharide (one molecule of glucose) while the latter is di-saccharide (a pair of glucose modules). Due to this, brewing sugar causes fermentation to start much quicker and leaves a clearer liquid at the end. As well as this, something like sucrose would have to be split by the yeast before it can begin to feed and ferment, often leaving bi-products and impurities that can give the final brewed product a bitter taste and unappealing appearance.

We offer three main brewing sugars at Ragus Sugars (brewer’s sugars no.1,2 or 3), each of which can be offered as either a fully inverted syrup or seeded into a crystalline block. They are all 95% readily fermentable and have the following colours, as certified using the European Brewery Convention: 25-35 EBC; 60-70 EBC; 120-140 EBC. In addition, we also produce candy and glucose chip blocks. As a result, we can cover all styles of colours and flavours.

As we have seen, sugar is a vital component to ensuring both a highly accurate brewing process and high-quality end products. Order your brewing sugar now using our product finder to benefit from Ragus Sugars’ decades of expertise.

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EU sugar production quotas: a free-for-all in freefall

Jul 04 2019

The removal of EU sugar production quotas two years ago has radically altered the face of the global sugar market. Here we explore what caused this and if anything can be done to reverse the current trend. 

How did the quota system work?

Production quotas for sugar were first introduced in 1968 as part of the rules for the sugar common market organisation (CMO) along with support prices for producers at a level considerably above that of the world market. Through measures such as the recently implemented Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Europe was aiming to become self-sufficient for food production. Support prices and quotas were identified as the ideal incentive to ensure the CAP achieved this goal.

The total production quota was 13.5 million tonnes each year, with this being divided across 20 member states. Any production outside of this was deemed as “out-of-quota” sugar and subject to strict rules regarding its use. It could be exported up to the 1.3 million tonne limit the EU had agreed with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), sold for non-food uses, or placed into storage to be counted against the following year’s quota.

If there was too little sugar on the market, enough was added to meet the quota; too much, and the quota had been surpassed, sugar was removed. Bringing an end to this system meant that were no limits on the amount of sugar that could be produced or exported. At the time, the European Commission (EC) said this would create a situation in which exports could better adjust to the market price both inside and outside the EU.

EU sugar production quotas gave producers security and kept prices stable. Ever since their removal in 2017, prices have crashed to nearly record lows.

What happened after the quotas were removed?

The situation that has developed in the post-quota sugar market has been a far cry from the EC’s contemporary optimism. Production quotas acted as a cocoon, allowing producers within the EU to operate in an artificial market that was sheltered from the highs and lows of the global sugar market. Once exposed to this fiercely competitive environment, prices and profits almost immediately fell off a cliff and excess sugar began to pile up across Europe, reaching an initial 11.5 million tonnes and soaring ever since.

Less than a year after the quotas were removed, Südzucker, the EU’s largest sugar producer, announced an operating loss of between 100-200 million euros. Removed from a quota-based haven, EU sugar prices were forced to rapidly fall in line with those of the global market, meaning that only a few months after the removal of production quotas white sugar fell to 374 euros a tonne, its lowest price since 2006. As a result, a spokesperson for Nordzucker, the EU’s second largest producer, claimed that “at the current price level, there is hardly a sugar company in Europe that can still produce break-even.”

What made removing the quotas even worse for the EU sugar market was that it coincided with a consumer trend away from sugar being used in food and drinks. Per capita sugar consumption had already been falling for decades and measures such as the UK’s sugar tax merely exacerbated the situation, leading to sugar, wholly unjustifiably, being regarded in almost the same light as tobacco. Only developing countries demonstrated an increase in demand, but, as they already benefitted from cheap sugar prices, this was of little solace to the EU sugar industry.

Having been so instrumental in wanting the production quotas removed, the EC needed to step in and rectify what was rapidly spiraling from a continent-wide to a global crisis. They did not, with prices tumbling and production surpluses continue to pile up even as we speak.

What is the present-day outlook for the EU sugar industry?

Earlier this year, Cristal Union, France’s second largest sugar group, claimed the removal of the production quotas brought about a sudden end to a golden age for the sector. Speaking at the Dubai Sugar Conference, the company’s CEO, Alain Commissaire, said he believes that prices are set to recover, but will never again match those experienced while the quotas were in place. Moreover, Cristal Union recently announced the closure of a further 15 facilities across the EU.

Falling prices have also caused European producers to reduce their beet planting areas every year since the removal of the quotas. Assuming an average yield, EU sugar production for 2019/20 is set to fall to around 18 million tonnes, three million tonnes down from the output in 2017/18, the first season after the quotas were abolished. As well as this, some producers are even turning away from sugar beet altogether and instead relying on more profitable crops that can better support their livelihoods.

The devastating impact of the decision to remove the production quotas is plain to see. Decades of industry has been plunged into a crisis that has no end in sight and could well deepen before it improves. What’s worse from a Ragus Pure Sugars and UK point of view is that the unresolved Brexit situation adds another layer of uncertainty to a market that is still trying to work out its new place in the world.

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Granular detail: golden syrup

Jun 21 2019

Golden syrup is fundamental to a huge variety of foodstuffs across the globe. Here we look at its link to Ragus’ history and what exactly it takes to produce the famous golden elixir.

What is the history of the golden elixir?

Golden syrup’s journey into becoming one of the most easily recognisable and loved sugar products throughout the world begins with Ragus Sugars’ founder Charles Eastick. Spurred on the by the rapidly increasing ubiquity of sugar in British life, he, along with his brothers John Joseph and Samuel, established a sugar analysis practice in 1880. Initially, this was designed to assist with accurate pricing and duty payments, but an importing crisis in 1883 forced the brothers to experiment with turning the molasses-brown treacle-like by-product of the sugar refining process into a palatable product.

As a result, Charles devised the formulation for golden syrup. First sold in its now iconic metal tins just two years later, it has since been officially recognised as the world’s oldest branded product. Having made this breakthrough, Charles would then go on to develop unique methods for making brewers’ saccharum and other inverted sugars.

Fast forward to the 1920s, and it was the identification of another gap in the UK’s sugar market that would lead to the foundation of the Ragus Sugars. During this decade, very small amounts of specialised sugars were being imported into Britain, largely due to it being economically unviable for the larger manufacturers to produce these themselves. Having noticed this, Charles set up a factory on the brand-new Slough Trading Estate dedicated to the production of, among other things, golden syrup, with this being the predecessor to the state-of-the-art facility Ragus Sugars has today.

Golden syrup produced by Ragus, one of the world's leading pure sugar manufacturers, from its advanced manufacturing site in the UK that also produces a range of pure sugars, blends and glucose products

Golden syrup was first formulated by our founder, Charles Eastick, in order to deal with a sugar importing crisis in 1883

What products is golden syrup used in?

As with most full or partially inverted sugar syrups, golden syrup is primarily used when manufacturing products in bulk either as a humectant, to prevent crystallisation, or for its distinct flavour profile. It is also able to withstand higher baking temperatures, making it ideally suited for biscuits, cakes, cookies, and flapjacks. Our clients may produce these goods on an industrial scale for international retail, but recipes for how to reproduce their results on a domestic level can be found here.

What makes golden syrup so ideally suited to these applications is its properties. Not only does it possess a sweetness value approximately 20% greater than straight sucrose (white sugar), but it also has a subtle golden colour that gives many products their distinct appearance. Complimenting this is golden syrup’s mellow and instantly recognisable flavour.

The current rise in veganism has also seen golden syrup increasingly utilised as a substitute for honey in a variety of products. While in a technical sense one cannot be swapped straight for the other, the two possess enough similar characteristics to make golden syrup a passable vegan alternative in this context.

How is golden syrup produced at Ragus Sugars?

Golden syrup production at Ragus Sugars today is the perfect fusion of our storied heritage and present-day expertise. We have developed the initial formulation devised by our founder Charles Eastick and combined this with our cutting-edge manufacturing facility, resulting in a superior product that is used in foodstuffs the world over. As well as being explored in more detail in a previous blog, the below video details our golden syrup manufacturing process in full, from sourcing to delivery.

To order the original golden syrup for your application, contact us now. 

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