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Thursday, 9 March 2017

In support of British Sugar

The whole point of Jam Moo Kow is to make jam and chutney from locally grown ingredients. Generally this involves me and my family growing the main ingredients - i.e. the fruit or the vegetables. Indeed, it is the availability of ingredients that determines what is made. Obviously, it is also necessary for me to barter or buy other ingredients. I like to source the beer, cider, cider vinegar, brandy and whisky used in my products from Concrete Cow Brewery and Virtual Orchard. Carol supplies the honey used in my Honey & Lemon Marmalade, and I use local eggs in my curds. But on top of that I need to buy in things such as spices, citrus fruit and, of course, sugar.

As you might imagine, I get through a heck of a lot of sugar so it is important to me to source that as locally as possible. To be honest, this has never been an issue as Silver Spoon make this easy. They grow sugar beet in East Anglia (really not many food miles way) and turn that into granulated sugar that is conveniently sold in all the major supermarkets... Well, actually that is not true. I have always turned my nose up at the huge 20kg bags of granulated sugar that Costco sell as these are Tate & Lyle. Despite Silver Spoon being supported by Waitrose and their products available to buy in store, it is only possible to buy Tate & Lyle sugar when ordering from Ocado. And now, it seems Tesco has turned its back on the brand.

It was the middle of January when I first noticed Tate & Lyle sugar taking the space that Silver Spoon sugar had always occupied in my local Tesco store. I hoped it was merely a supply issue but this week news broke that Tesco have ditched Silver Spoon as a supplier in preference for Tate and Lyle. Their reason for this - to provide their customers with the cheapest products.

So let's take a look at Silver Spoon for a moment. In fact, have a look at their 4 minute explanatory video. Here they describe how sugar beet is grown by East Anglian farmers and processed in a factory in Bury St Edmonds into granulated sugar. The waste from the sugar beet is turned into animal feed and the waste energy is used to grow tomatoes.

For comparison: Tate & Lyle has a long history, going back to 1878 when Tate started processing sugar in London. The company grew and expanded to become Tate & Lyle during the Victorian era. However, in 1981 European restriction on sugar cane led to the closure of one of the London refineries and now forces the company to only run their remaining plant 5 days a week, which unfortunately means it is less energy efficient because of the stop/start. Processing for Tate and Lyle also takes place in other European countries such as Portugal, Germany and Italy. In October 2010 the whole company was taken over and is now owned by American Sugar Holdings. Tate & Lyle sugar uses sugar cane as its crop and this can only be grown in tropical countries. Most of the sugar cane comes from developing countries such as Belize and they do work within Fair Trade rules. Once harvested, the cane is processed locally into raw sugar and then transported by sea to the refineries in London and Europe for further processing and bagging.

As is so often the case, on the face of it, the imported product should work out more expensive but it is in fact cheaper. Tate & Lyle sugar has always been cheaper but now, in the face of a weak pound (which you think would make it more expensive!) and prices across the store going up, Tesco have taken the decision on behalf of its customers to go with the cheaper product to keep prices down.

With so many products available and only a certain amount of store space, I understand that all supermarkets have to make decisions about which products and brands to stock but it does aggravate me that they have decided that price is the most important consideration for shoppers and to take away their choice to support a British industry and limit food mileage.  With wonky veg and overly cheap milk, supermarkets are not looking at all supportive of British farming right now.

Anyway, at least now Tesco have made their sugar choice public and I can vote with my feet. Yesterday I popped along to my local Asda store to stock up on Silver Spoon sugar and I can only hope that they continue to support this British brand. Whatever the supermarkets might think about being the need to be cheapest, sometimes there are things more important to consumers than a few saved pence.

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