British Sugar: The story behind the silos

Behind the silos which dominate the Bury St Edmunds skyline and the plumes of steam which bellow out from the British Sugar factory, lies a multi-million pound industry which supplies global businesses ranging from confectionary to pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

Sweet and addictive, sugar is a foodstuff eaten all over the world, but the staple sweetener which is found in most kitchens is created via a complex process, taking time, effort and skill to produce.

The British Sugar site, in Hollow Road, was built in 1925 and covers a vast 200 acres.

Although the sugar beet campaign runs from September to February each year, with farmers growing, harvesting and transporting beet to be processed, the site runs all-year round.

Employing 165 permanent staff, plus an extra 50 employees during each sugar beet campaign, the site is supplied by 1,200 growers, many of whom are located within a 30-mile radius of Bury.

The company runs a successful apprenticeship scheme and will soon be looking to recruit four school leavers to join the company and begin training.

Steve Williams, factory manager, said: "The Bury site is just one of four plants owned by British Sugar which combine to produce seven million tonnes of sugar a year.

"We are a huge site, employing local people, supporting local farmers and producing sugar products for companies such as Coca Cola and Cadbury's.

"In Bury, we produced 275,000 tonnes of sugar last year, created from two million tonnes of beet, and we broke the record for daily and weekly processing."

The sugar-making process, which is monitored by Paul Stringer, the operations manager, involves beet being weighed and tested for sugar content, cleaned, sliced and diffused to extract the sugar in liquid form from the beet.

The liquid is then purified, evaporated and crystalized before being quality checked and packaged.

Mr Williams said that even though sugar is the core product manufactured at the site, a number of by-products are also marketed.

For example, the combined heat and power plant at the site produces steam and electricity and up to 50mw per hour can be exported into the local electricity grid, which is enough to supply a population of 120,000 people.

The soil washed from the beet is used to create topsoil, with British Sugar being the UK market leader, while the stones which are removed during the cleaning process are sold for aggregate.

Mr Williams added that more than 100,000 tonnes of dried animal feed were made at the site annually by drying the beet pulp, while 70,000 tonnes of lime, which is used by farmers to correct Ph soil levels, are also manufactured annually from the Bury site.

As well as being a thriving business and an employer providing training and a successful sports and social club, British Sugar is also committed to the environment.

Ben Bishop, environment manager, said: "British Sugar cares about the environment and the company works with the Environment Agency to ensure efficiency.

"We work to cut carbon emissions and energy use and the manufacture of by-products from the beet process helps to prevent waste."

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