Sugar Talk Sugar Talk Sugar talk logo

Glucose syrup pouring into petri dish close up

Glucose syrup UK shortages: how to overcome the supply deficit

17/06/2021 By Ben Eastick in News & updates Market news

A ‘perfect storm’ of factors has resulted in shortages of glucose syrup in the UK market. Here, we explain what has caused this deficit and how manufacturers can overcome the present supply challenges by using invert sugar syrup as a possible replacement.

Glucose syrup definition

Glucose syrup is a viscous sweetener syrup with a light, sweet taste. Typically derived from wheat or maize, it is a refined and concentrated solution of dextrose, maltose and higher saccharides, which is obtained via hydrolysis of starch.

In today’s world, it is one of the most popular ingredients in commercial food and beverage production. However, today, there is also a significant glucose syrup challenge facing bulk manufacturers in the UK – shortages of the ingredient.

What has caused these shortages?

The current shortages in the UK market have been caused by what can only be described as a ‘perfect storm’ of supply chain pressures. These can be divided into the following categories: the pandemic, last year’s poor harvest and, of course, Brexit.

1. Pandemic: The uncertainty the pandemic has brought since March 2020, which continues to this day and beyond, resulted in some leading glucose syrup manufacturers pivoting their commercial strategy. In one case, this started with the closure of a major plant in England. It then developed through the glucose manufacturers’ directing their sales reps to aggressively sell product while demand was low due to the pandemic. That they did. However, it was a short-term approach that has played its part in the UK’s current shortfall.

2. Poor harvest: As highlighted above, glucose syrup is derived from wheat and maize – crops that are typically harvested between late summer and early autumn. Last year, both crops experienced poor harvests that have since restricted manufacturers’ ability to produce glucose syrup throughout Europe. Indeed, this AHDB report on the harvest progress suggests that 2020’s overall wheat yields were not only below the previous year but also ‘below the five-year average.’ It seems analysts are not holding out much hope for this year, either. It is predicted that this year’s wheat harvest ‘will remain tight’.

3. Brexit: The complications associated with Brexit need not explaining. As all within the industry are aware, the UK’s departure from the EU has created supply chain complications both up and downstream. Most notable in this challenge has been domestic imports. These have compounded last year’s poor harvest, meaning manufacturers have limited resources through which to produce glucose syrup.

Such is the scale of the shortage – combined with the real possibility that it could last up to 12 months or more – that Ragus can only guarantee a supply of glucose syrup to customers with existing contracts, and even then, this supply may be limited at times.

How could the glucose syrup deficit affect manufacturers?

The current deficit is a significant challenge for the industry, simply because glucose syrup has become an integral bulk ingredient in commercial manufacture. Indeed, as it is widely used by industry-leaders in the soft drinks, baked goods and confectionery markets, some companies may soon meet the commercial implications.

The most obvious of which is operational disruption. Without the continuous supply required to maintain steady rates of production, there is a range of issues for the business and its customers to manage. At best it results in increased risk for the business and can also cause production delays and inefficiencies. At worst it can result in the business failing to meet contractual obligations with customers, along with the fallout this brings. Operational disruption almost always leads to increased costs and both these best and worst-case scenarios are no different.

So, what are manufacturers in the UK to do? Well, fortunately, there is an alternative solution – using invert sugar as a glucose syrup substitute. The merits of which are outlined below.

Invert sugar vs glucose syrup

Invert sugar vs glucose syrup side-by-side image
Invert sugar syrup can be used as a viable and healthier alternative to glucose syrup in specific applications. However, there are two crucial points to first consider:

1. Partial invert sugar syrup is the only type of invert sugar that should be used as a glucose syrup substitute. Full invert sugar syrup cannot be used as a replacement because it would crystallise.

2. Partial invert should only be used as a replacement for glucose syrup 63 dextrose equivalent (DE). It should not be used as a replacement for glucose syrup 42DE, which is a thicker and less sweet variation better suited to stabilising and bulking functions, often in confectionery applications.

Manufacturing partial invert sugar syrup

Manufacturing invert sugar syrup. 

Now these parameters have been established, we can focus on why partial invert can be used as a replacement for glucose syrup 63DE. Namely, it is because the two syrups have a similar colour, flavour and viscosity, and deliver similar functional benefits to the application.

Most notably, partial invert can be used as a replacement for glucose syrup because, like the latter, it has a much lower water content than straight sucrose. As a result, it can extend end product shelf lives by retaining moisture and preventing crystallisation. This is particularly beneficial to baking applications, where it keeps the product moist throughout production and storage and can also be used as an icing or glaze.

In addition, both products are also widely used in soft drinks applications and can be used interchangeably because they have similar Brix levels – measurements that are crucial to bulk manufacturers as they indicate the sweetness of the product. Just like glucose syrup, partial invert adds much-needed body and mouthfeel to these soft drinks applications.

Consider the solution

With these examples in mind, it may be wise for some manufacturers to consider using partial invert as a viable replacement for glucose syrup, especially with the likelihood that the deficit lasts up to, or longer than, 12 months.

A word of advice, though. Each application is unique and, as such, we recommend speaking to us about your specific product requirements so we can advise on the exact partial invert formulation for your business. With both our pure sugar product and extensive sugar expertise at your disposal, you can then confidently navigate this ‘perfect storm’ of supply chain pressures.

Ragus customer services team image
Ragus understands the significance of supply challenges within the food and beverage production industry. To find out more about how we can deliver a continuous supply of invert sugar to help you overcome the glucose syrup deficit, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

View more