Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Ragus at 95 – a history still in the making
We’re 95 this month, as Ragus Sugars Ltd was incorporated in September 1928 by Charles Eastick. But our story began well before then in 1880 when Charles, the great-grandfather of the current generation of the Eastick family making sugar products, started a sugar chemistry laboratory in London. Our history has always been about making sugars, and as we’re into the fifth generation of our family in the business, it’s a history that is still in the making.
Pure sugars expertise – it’s in our DNA
Charles Eastick was only 20 years old when, alongside his older brother John, he started his career in sugars. During this period of the late 19th century, the British Empire’s affluent middle classes had a taste for the sugar that the empire’s colonies were satisfying with sugar cane imports. The brothers launched a sugar analysis and consulting practice in London, then the centre of the world’s sugar trade.
The brothers’ reputation grew. In 1882, Abram Lyle invited them to create a laboratory at his new Plaistow Wharf refinery on the bank of the River Thames, close to where today’s London City Airport is located. It was during this time, when experimenting with sugar refining byproducts and sugar inversion processes, that Charles invented what has become one of today’s most iconic sugar products: golden syrup.
Product innovation was also driving packing innovation. It was at this time, 1885, that the iconic metal tins containing golden syrup first appeared on grocers’ shelves – the oldest branded packaging of any product in the world.
From the laboratory to the factory floor, and wartime
In 1890, the brothers John and Charles went their separate ways, but both stayed in the sugar industry. John left Britain for Australia and the burgeoning sugar cane industry in Bundaberg, which is still a thriving sugar-producing region today. Charles stayed in London, applying his knowledge of sugar and learning valuable new skills while running production at the white sugar refinery, Martineaus in Whitechapel.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Charles was a sugar industry veteran, having amassed both contacts and credibility within the tight-knit global sugar trading community. His solid reputation and contacts around the world enabled him, alongside his industry peers, to play a pivotal role in maintaining sugar supplies to the UK’s population during rationing. This occurred despite the devastating unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats that in one three-month period in early 1917 resulted in the loss of over 500 merchant ships.
After the war, having been awarded an MBE for his services to the country, Charles and his family survived the brutal post-war consolidation of the sugar industry, aided by 11 sugar-refining patents and hard work.
The origins of Ragus as we know it today
In the next chapter of Charles’ life, Ragus was founded on the newly built Slough Trading Estate. His passion for innovation, a trait the Eastick family has retained to the present day, led to Charles establishing Fruit Products Ltd in 1928. This factory on Bedford Avenue is listed in the trading estate’s 1930 directory. Fruit Products made specialist sugars with the raw material supplied by sister company Martineaus and, as the name suggests, fruit cordials and candied peel for the exclusive department stores of the time.
In 1930, having incorporated the company two years prior, Charles established the Ragus Sugars brand – its factory was the precursor to the modern facility you see today. Ragus Sugars manufactured invert sugars which were, and still are, sweeter moist sugars prized by the food and beverage manufacturers for their properties. The new company name comes from these unique, inverted sugar products. Ragus is ‘sugar’ spelled back-to-front.
During the 1930s, a second generation of the Eastick family joined Ragus. Charles’ sons Douglas and Frederick joined Ragus and Martineau’s, respectively. This period was a time of further challenges and innovation. As impending war led to a shortage of fruit for confectionery, Ragus turned its focus solely on sugar and innovated a honey alternative manufactured from crystallised golden syrup.
Sugar continues to flow into the docks during WWII
Even before World War II, the government had started taking precautionary measures to secure food supplies, including commodities like sugar and cocoa. It appointed a Controller of Sugar and formed a ‘Sugar Pool’ to trade in the commodity.
At the start of the war, only 30% of the food consumed in the UK was produced in the country, and the sugar consumed in British homes was mainly refined from imported sugarcane. Despite a renewed focus to boost domestic sugar beet farming, imported sugar continued to dominate the supply of the eight ounce (227 grammes) weekly ration provided to the civilian population.
When war came, Douglas joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and indirectly played a key role in maintaining the flow of sugar into the UK. As commander of a barrage balloon squadron protecting Felixstowe Docks, he was responsible for disrupting Nazi Germany’s air attacks on the installation.
Post-war Britain’s sweet tooth fuels growth and opportunity
Sugar rationing ended in 1953, when confectionary was de-rationed, and the 1950s were a tough time for businesses in the UK. But it was a time of opportunity, which Charles’ grandsons Barrington and Ronald recognised when they took over Ragus in 1950. The product range widened to include crystallised candy feed for apiaries and crystalised animal feed for farms, alongside the traditional sugar syrups and inverts.
In the meantime, the family also consolidated its holdings within the sugar industry. Bernard and Frederick sold their shares in Martineau’s in 1961, with Hammersmith headquartered sugar refiners Manbré and Garton taking over.
Product diversification and keeping the sugar flowing as Ragus reaches 50
Ragus saw considerable change and faced many challenges during Ronald and Barrington’s tenure. In the 1970s, the UK was undergoing many major societal changes which drove growth and diversification in the food and beverage industry, and boosted sugar consumption.
Ragus began to sell industrial quantities of refined white sugar and raw cane sugars to meet this demand, alongside its core invert sugar syrups and golden syrup production. The factory output grew substantially, and the workforce doubled.
But from the mid-1970s, the UK economy turned in a different direction, with industrial unrest and an economic downturn leading to the label ‘the sick man of Europe’. Strike action hit the UK’s transport and logistics infrastructure, and unionised lorry drivers stopped delivering vital sugar supplies from UK refineries and ports to the food and beverage manufacturers who depended on sugar for their production.
A fourth generation introduce new ways of working
After 40 years jointly at the helm, Barry and Ronald retired in 1990, handing over the business to their sons. Ronald’s son Peter became managing director and ran the factory, with Barry’s eldest son James driving sales and commercial.
Barry’s second son, Benjamin, took ownership of a relatively new discipline for Ragus, marketing, and this was to become instrumental in the company’s future growth and direction. The two brothers and cousin each took over specific areas of sourcing beet and cane sugars to keep them close to the supply chain, as well as staying close to customers.
The 1990s and new millennium saw sustained growth, accelerated by a brand update that was launched to position Ragus as an increasingly globalised operation. Output increased by an order of magnitude, placing strain on the Bedford Avenue factory. The production facility had undergone multiple upgrades and expansions since 1929, but the site was now too small. In the late 2000s, Peter, James and Ben started to plan for a new factory. This factory would be based just up the road on a vacant plot on Yeovil Road.
A new future-proofed factory opens and a fifth generation takes on CSR
Ragus’ strengths included sourcing locally and globally and supplying leading household food and beverage brands directly with a range of crystalline sugars and sugar syrups. The new factory, opened in 2013 and manufacturing industrial quantities of pure sugar products, enabled Ben, James and Peter to cement Ragus’ status as a full-service international operation.
During the 2010s, the focus was on bulk sourcing and sales of products that included the traditional treacles and golden syrups, alongside greater volumes of molasses. More blue-chip corporations with their brands in every household joined as customers.
Ragus’ early focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and supply chain transparency, and its introduction of organic and fair-trade lines, enabled the business to satisfy the certification and traceability requirements of even the most demanding customers.
In October 2017, Henry Eastick, Peter’s son and Charles’ great-great-grandson, joined Ragus as CSR Manager, the fifth generation of the Eastick family to play a role in the business. As well as identifying green technology that has introduced efficiencies into the factory, Henry has championed the company’s charity and communities initiatives, partnering with local charity Thames Valley Adventure Park and environmental charity Project Seagrass.
Bulk storage and continuity of supply
Investment in the factory continues into the 2020s to better serve the needs of Ragus’ customers in an era of increasing uncertainty. The pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have caused major disruptions to commodities markets and supply chains, including sugar markets. Extreme climate events and disease have impacted both sugar beet and sugarcane harvests.
Ragus’ sourcing and supply chain expertise has never been more important, coupled with investment in new plant and bulk storage facilities. This expertise ensures that, as during the challenges of the last 95 years, Ragus can keep sugar flowing into the factories of its customers and on to their customers and consumers.
The Ragus brand has a rich history that is rooted in both the momentous and the mundane yet no less important events of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. We are marking the milestone of 95 years of uninterrupted pure sugars manufacturing for our customers.
The brand’s values are built on product innovation and knowledge, sourcing, supply chain and market expertise, serving customer needs by delivering to specification, on time and in full, and the continuity, stability and focus enabled by the Eastick family’s stewardship. These values have served our business and customers well for 95 years and will be our constant companion as we continue to make our history.
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.