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Wow, my first year in sugar – how the time has flown!

21 June 2024

A blog by Keith Packer, Managing Director of British Sugar

As I reach my one-year anniversary at British Sugar, I want to reflect on the past 12 months; everything I have learnt, how the business has developed, and how we are looking to the future. The journey so far has been both enlightening and challenging, as I have deepened my understanding of the complexities and dynamics within the sugar industry.

During my first few weeks in the role, I was immediately struck by the sheer scale and sophistication of our operations. From the cultivation of sugar beet by the growers we work with to the intricate processes of refining and production – every step is meticulously managed to ensure efficiency and quality. I was similarly blown away by the range of co-products that ensures we reuse and maximise every part of the sugar beet delivered to our factories, turning outputs into valuable inputs for other industries outside of sugar, such as betaine for use in animal feed diets or as a supplement in sports nutrition to biofuel for automotives.

Looking back, those first few months were a steep learning curve in agronomy, engineering, and supply chain logistics. Revealing interdependencies that keep the industry running smoothly. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting out and about, meeting everyone who contributes to this fantastic industry – from all our teams on site, to our growers, our suppliers, our customers, and our partners.

It is true that people can make a business, and this is absolutely the case at British Sugar. I have seen passion and enthusiasm in abundance since I first started, and the camaraderie and shared sense of purpose amongst colleagues has been inspiring. Alongside this, there is a true focus on safety and wellbeing; something that everyone takes as part of their own personal responsibility.

If I had to pick three words to describe my first year, they’d be – pride, adaptability, and ingenuity. Here’s why…

Pride in leading a great British business

I continue to be amazed by the heritage of the business, the phenomenal length of service that we have amongst the teams and the generational length of many of our growers and their farms; as well as the dedication of everybody across the whole industry to produce homegrown, high quality British sugar. I feel immense pride in leading such a fantastic business, and I get the sense that so many involved in the industry feel a similar sense of pride. We’re at the forefront of the agricultural industry in the East of England, the East Midlands and Yorkshire and play such a huge role in the rural economy across these areas. Sugar beet is part of a bigger agricultural ecosystem and the success of our industry hinges on the seamless cooperation between grower, processor, and customers.

Adaptability to harness the latest innovations

In my view, one of the most impressive aspects of British Sugar, is how we embrace technology. In operations, automation and advanced data analytics have revolutionised production processes, improving yield and reducing waste. The use of satellite imagery and precision agriculture techniques in sugar beet farming is particularly fascinating, showing how innovation can drive sustainability and profitability simultaneously. I’m also excited to see where our research into gene editing takes us – we are at the cutting edge of science and agriculture and developments in this area will position the UK as a global leader in agricultural R&D.

Ingenuity to deliver despite the challenges

It’s no secret that climate change is having a huge impact on the world around us, not just for us as a business, but for our growers too. I continue to be impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of our growers; their mindset and commitment to never give up, particularly given recent experiences with the Great British weather! Our growers are the lifeblood of our business, and we must continue to engage to build a stronger working relationship for the benefit of the whole industry.  Looking at our business, we are seeing a real step change in achieving energy reductions across our sites, and one of the biggest opportunities I see is how we reflect this across our entire supply chain.

So, in conclusion, I am hugely optimistic about the future of the British sugar industry. The continuous push towards more sustainable practices, coupled with technological advancements, promises a resilient and innovative future. We are going to face challenges but how we work together to overcome these, will be testament to how strong we are as an industry.

This campaign is the 100th for both our Bury and Wissington sites – a real milestone for us as a business. I am confident that we will be building on this heritage and producing sugar for the next 100 years to come!