sugar demand
and supply
in the UK

Top uk sugar market field

how UK beet sugar and cane from overseas meets demand

Top uk sugar market factory

the UK sugar sector

The UK demand for sugar is currently around 2 million tonnes annually and comes from two main sectors; the food and drink manufacturing and retail markets. Roughly 85% of the demand is from food and drink manufacturers, where it is used as an ingredient in food and drink products, with the remaining balance of around 15% demand by the retail sector for consumers, cafés and restaurants.

The majority of UK consumer sugar consumption is in the form of refined granulated sugar. A smaller, but still significant share of the market is taken by speciality products, such as demerara, muscovado, caster, fondant, icing sugars and more.



retail sector

how demand is delivered

the domestic beet sugar industry

UK beet sugar production

UK beet sugar production is highly efficient1, and is grown by 3,000 growers supplying about 8 million tonnes of crop annually. Sugar beet yields have been increased by 25% over the past ten years2 driven by joint industry targeted initiatives, and are continuing to increase at over 2% annually – higher than for most arable crops3. Britain’s sugar yields are comparable with the best performing global cane or beet industries and are higher than Brazil’s4.

Domestically grown sugar beet is supplied to British Sugar, which extracts the sugar and converts it into a wide range of products5. British Sugar has a current installed sugar production capacity of about 1.5 million tonnes annually. It operates four advanced manufacturing plants in East Anglia and East Midlands.


the UK's single beet sugar processor

British Sugar has consistently invested in its operations to drive efficiency improvements, reduce energy costs and emissions, and improve operational flexibility - around £250 million has been invested over the past five years6.

Today it has some of the most advanced production facilities, and is one of the most cost efficient processors in the EU7 and is internationally competitive. In addition to sugar, it produces a wide range of co-products including: high performance combined heat and power electricity, renewable transport fuel, renewable energy from anaerobic digestion, animal feed, horticulture, liming products and topsoil.

About 9,500 jobs are supported throughout the economy by the UK beet sugar industry8, mostly in rural areas of East Anglia and the East Midlands, and over £200 million of corporation tax has been paid by British Sugar to the UK exchequer over the past five years9.


Domestic beet sugar farmers



supply 8 million tonnes of crop


yield increase over the past ten years

Domestic beet sugar increase

Britain's sugar yields are comparable with the best performing global cane or beet industries and are higher than Brazil's




9,500 jobs



the refining sector

Sugar can be produced and traded both in its 'raw' and 'refined' formats.

raw sugar

The UK refining industry is supplied from raw sugar which has already been extracted from cane and partly processed in the originating countries’ cane mills. Raw sugar in this partly finished state is imported from a variety of cane sugar producing countries. The mix of raw sugar supplying countries changes from year to year depending on availability and commercial considerations, but normally includes: African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and Least Developed Countries (LDC), Brazil, Central and South America, and Australia.

In addition to the increased EU access for zero and low tariff imports, EU import rules also allow tariff-free import and refining of world market sugars provided the resulting products are exported outside the EU.

To support globally competitive refiners, EU import laws allow tariff free refining of world sugars for world market sales.

Raw sugar supplies entering the UK are refined by T+L Sugars Ltd. (TLS) at their refinery at Silvertown in East London. The refinery has a potential installed capacity of 1.2 million tonnes annually10, but has been operating at a lower level than this in recent years11 due to competitive pressures from other refiners and technology developments in some of the cane sugar supplying countries. TLS also operates a specialist processing plant close to the refinery at Plaistow Wharf, which produces speciality sugar and syrup products12. TLS is owned by ASR Group International Inc. (ASR).


refined sugar

Sugar can also be imported into the UK in the form of refined white sugar and other specialist finished products. As part of the 2006 sugar policy reform, import and refining practices were liberalised – most imports were previously restricted to raw sugar and reserved for full-time refiners. 

This encouraged some cane sugar producers like Mauritius13  to invest in refining technology in their home country, so enabling them to supply refined, instead of raw, sugar and capture a greater proportion of the added value. 

Imports of this kind no longer need to be refined at destination, and can be supplied direct to customers. Although this change does not reduce the overall level of imports, it has contributed to the competitive pressure on refiners.

the mix of
raw sugar
supplying countries changes


and 2013

sugar policy


refined sugar

and refining
practices were

more refined

cane sugar


competition from cane suppliers who have redefined their industries


  1. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  2. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  3. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  4. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  5. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  6. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  7. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  1. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  2. British Sugar: A homegrown success story
  3. TLS website, 2017
  4. TLS statements in The Telegraph, 6 June 2015
  5. TLS website, 2017
  6. Mauritius completes move to refined sugar exports, Mauritius Sugar Syndicate article in Agritrade, 9 August
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