Ben Eastick Written by Ben Eastick

Golden syrup innovation: part of Ragus’ DNA

In the third blog of our heritage series, we explain Ragus’ intrinsic relationship with golden syrup by exploring some key examples of the Eastick family’s innovations with the golden elixir. From the invention of golden syrup in 1883 through to today’s state-of-the-art industrial production, innovation has formed a crucial part of Ragus’ rich sugar heritage.

The invention of golden syrup, 1883

Now recognised the world over for its golden colour and distinctive mellow flavour, golden syrup was invented in the late nineteenth century by Ragus’ founder, Charles Eastick. Charles and his elder brother John had gained a reputation in the sugar industry for their consulting practice located in the heart of London and, as a result, were invited to establish a laboratory at Abram Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf refinery in 1882. The brothers had grown this reputation by analysing raw and white sugar to determine accurate duty and price payments, however, their attention soon turned elsewhere.

In 1883, an importing crisis brought sugar production to a halt and, therefore, the brothers began focusing their efforts on the refining process rather than sugar analysis. In particular, Charles treated the threat of the crisis as an opportunity to start experimenting. His ambition was to use the brown treacle-like by-product of the refining process to create an alternative sugar product that would replicate some of the qualities of honey and maximise the use of the limited raw sugar available.

The Eastick brothers were invited to establish a sugar analysis laboratory at Lyle’s Plaistow refinery in 1882.

Through these experiments, Charles created the first formulation of golden syrup in 1883 and it became an immediate commercial success in Victorian Britain. Initially distributed in wooden barrels, by 1885 it was being sold up and down the country in its iconic metal tins, and has since been recognised as the world’s oldest branded food product. Its invention was, of course, the most important golden syrup innovation, but the Easticks also innovated with the syrup in other key ways. 

Honey shortages spark invention again: crystallized golden syrup, 1939

The next major milestone in Ragus’ intrinsic relationship with golden syrup innovation occurred 56 years after the product was first invented. Following several years of German expansion, it was clear that war in Europe was imminent by the turn of 1939. Having been awarded an MBE for his services sugar rationing in the Great War, Charles was well aware of the demands that war would place on the nation and was already preparing for food shortages.

Like the Great War, sugar would need to be rationed along with other staples such as bacon and butter. But there was also another food in high demand at the time: honey. Increased demand saw the public encouraged to keep beehives and produce honey, which was highly successful in many rural communities but not a realistic option for much of the country.

Shortages ensued and sparked new invention, with Charles adjusting his original golden syrup formulation to produce a honey alternative made from crystallized golden syrup. Once this new product had been produced at Ragus’ factory in Slough, it was packed into glass jars and distributed to local grocers and major food stores throughout the nation. Just like honey, the crystallized golden syrup was mainly used contemporarily as a spread on bread and butter.

“Delicious to eat and most convenient to use” – Ragus’ crystallized golden syrup. 

Beyond the formulation: introduction of plastic jars, 1960s

Our intrinsic relationship with golden syrup innovation extends beyond the product itself. Indeed, at Martineaus – the London-based sugar refinery that played a pivotal role in Ragus’ heritage – the Easticks redefined the relationship between golden syrup and consumers by packaging the syrup in plastic jars as well as in the iconic metal tins.

Metal tins were, and still are, viable packaging options, not least because of their instantly-recognisable identity. But when storing golden syrup in tins the stickiness of the syrup can cause the lid to stick down, making it difficult to open. By introducing a plastic jar and screw-top lid into some of Martineaus’ golden syrup packaging, consumers could choose their preferred option.  

Complementing this new form of packaging was a focus on the golden elixir’s appearance. Metal tins are covered entirely in branding, which means that consumers cannot see the product inside. Plastic jars, on the other hand, include branding but are mainly transparent so consumers can see the colour of the product inside. So, packaging in plastic jars placed greater emphasis on the beautiful natural colour of the golden syrup. The then new look Martineaus golden syrup was aesthetic, practical and sophisticated; innovation enhanced appeal.

What about golden syrup innovation today?

Golden syrup is one of the world’s most-loved and widely-used sugar products today, just as it was 138 years ago in 1883. Its formulation has altered slightly since then but it is still largely the same golden syrup that Charles Eastick invented, renowned for its distinctive mellow flavour and golden colour.

Ragus’ purpose-built production facility in Berkshire, UK. 

Today, our intrinsic relationship innovating with the golden elixir centres on how we manufacture it. Our world-class production facility in Berkshire enables us to industrially produce the highest-quality and most consistent golden syrup; in the most streamlined way. Combine these technological capabilities with the expertise passed down over generations of Ragus – as well as our commitment to new product development – and it appears that innovation is a vital part of our DNA.

Ragus’ storied legacy producing golden syrup and innovating with the product enables us to manufacture the ideal formulation for your application. To learn more about how we produce golden syrup today, watch this video. To benefit from our unrivalled golden syrup expertise, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or sales@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.