Supermarket giant Tesco has decided to stop selling Silver Spoon sugar – even though one of its biggest stores is next to the British Sugar factory that makes it in the heart of East Anglia’s beet growing region.
Rather than stocking bags of granulated Silver Spoon sugar made from British sugar beet, Tesco is stocking imported sugar refined in east London by Tate & Lyle from cane grown as far as 5,000 miles away in countries such as Belize.
The decision has frustrated British Sugar bosses – and infuriated East Anglian sugar beet growers – not least because one of Tesco’s largest edge-of-town superstores is across the road from the factory where Silver Spoon is made in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
British Sugar managing director Paul Kenward acknowledged that he found the decision annoying, saying it had touched a nerve and seemed perverse. “We didn’t decide not to supply Tesco – Tesco decided not to stock us,” he emphasised.
“The supermarkets in their marketing make a great play of supporting British food and locally grown produce. But all too often – when it comes to a contract stage and they get presented with a choice – for fractions of pennies they will go the other way.”
Mr Kenward suggested growers should take some comfort in the fact that bagged sugar accounted for only about 15% of the UK sugar market – much less than the market for industrial syrups and sweeteners supplied by British Sugar to food and drink manufacturers.
‘Support British farmers’
However, he said too few consumers realised sugar beet was grown in the UK – despite the Union Jack and Red Tractor logo on Silver Spoon packaging. Mr Kenward added: “If Tesco wants to get the credit for being supportive of British farmers, then they should support British farmers.”
Cambridgeshire beet grower and newly elected NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said: “Our growers will be disappointed by Tesco’s decision. Beet growing makes an important contribution to rural economies and supports many jobs in rural areas.”
Mr Sly, who farms at Thorney, near Peterborough, added: “Many people in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and East Anglia will know that beet is grown locally, yet Tesco is denying them the opportunity to back British farming by switching to cane sugar.”
Tesco said it had reviewed its ranges and suppliers for sugar. Responding to queries from frustrated shoppers on Twitter, the retailer said: “We have decided to change our supplier from Silver Spoon to Tate & Lyle, but we still have Half Spoon and sweeteners available.”