A snapshot of British Sugar history
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The UK beet sugar industry as we know it began in the early 1900s and the first factory, built in 1912, was our very own Cantley factory in Norfolk. That first harvest and factory ‘campaign’ began a remarkable partnership between agriculture and industry that continues to thrive.
During the 1920s, a further 17 factories were built and, until the 1930s, the crop was processed by 13 autonomous companies, including Cupar in Scotland. Sugar making since the early days had the atmosphere of a family business, with fathers and sons working side by side in the factories. This still remains the case today.
In 1936, the factories were amalgamated by the Sugar Industry (Reorganisation) Act to form one organisation – the British Sugar Corporation – to manage the entire domestic crop; a development which marked a significant step in the progress of the UK beet sugar industry.
After the Second World War there was a change in government and the King’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament in October 1950 declared the intention to transfer the shares in the British Sugar Corporation to public ownership. Although nationalisation never happened due to a lack of parliamentary time many people mistakenly believed that it had taken place. The industry, at that time, was controlled by the government but, it was never wholly owned by them.
Early in 1950 the Corporation decided to invest in modernising all the factories - putting in place a five year plan. Completed ahead of schedule in 1954, this £9 million investment saw the replacement of much of the plant.
Also in the early 1950s new offices were built in Peterborough next to the factory. These in time became the Head Office of British Sugar and remained standing long after the factory was demolished in 1991. In 2017 British Sugar announced that they were building a new head office in a new Peterborough location and the existing building would be demolished.
In 1972, ‘Silver Spoon’ was launched as the retail brand name of British Sugar, selling granulated, caster, cubed and icing sugar, which you can still see on your local supermarket shelf today.
The Government remained a shareholder in the industry until 1981 when it sold its share. In 1982 the word ‘Corporation’ was taken from the company name and the British Sugar Corporation became a Public Limited Company, trading as British Sugar.
In the same year S&W Berisford made a second takeover bid for British Sugar, the first one having been rejected. This time they were successful and British Sugar was considered to be the cornerstone of Berisford’s newly created Bristar Group which would expand in to sugar and non-sugar related activities here in the UK and the USA.
Following financial difficulties in the early nineties Berisford was forced to put British Sugar up for sale. Associated British Foods (ABF) bought the company in 1991 and is still the parent company today.
In 2012 the industry celebrated 100 years of processing homegrown sugar and we continue to be proud to be part of this great British success story.
We now have four factories producing the same and sometimes more sugar than when we operated 18 factories. We’ve invested over £250 million in transitioning our factories into advanced manufacturing plants over the past five years, with a focus on energy reduction projects, anaerobic digestion, product storage flexibility and environmental improvements. These investments have helped us become the efficient and sustainable business we are today.
On 1st October 2017 British Sugar entered a new era; as for the first time since 1968 the business is no longer restricted by EU quotas.
This change gives the British beet sugar industry an opportunity to grow.