Imperial Sugar ups Wholesome Sweetener investment

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Imperial sugar, Sugar

Imperial Sugar has laid out $4m to increase its stake in the
Wholesome Sweeteners joint venture, a move that recognises
opportunities in the organic sweetener sector.

Imperial Sugar initially formed Wholesome Sweeteners in 2001 in collaboration with UK based food firm Edward Billington and Son. At the outset it owned 45 per cent, but the new investment takes its share to 50 per cent. It also includes the option for a total buy-out of Billington's share between September 2010 and May 2011. Imperial Sugar has indicated that the investment will open up new areas of business and distribution channels, stimulate innovation. "We believe Wholesome Sweeteners… provides an excellent foundation for us to grow our natural and organic portfolio,"​ said Imperial president and CEO John Sheptor. Wholesome Sweeteners supplies fair-trade, organic and natural sugars and syrups to industry, as well as direct to consumers. Its industry offering includes organic whole cane sugars, organic granulated, liquid and powdered sugars, organic Turbinado, light brown and dark brown sugars, organic liquid sweetener blends, liquid invert and compound crystallized sugars, and organic Blue Agave nectar. The sweetener sector has seen immense demand for ingredients that are deemed natural, as consumers turn their back on chemically-produced sweeteners. The hunt for natural sweeteners has been particularly keen in beverages, with Coca Cola and Cargill teaming up for the development of their Truvia brand no-calorie, low-glycaemic index sweetener. PepsiCo is also believed to be developing natural and healthier sweeteners for beverage use. Organic foods are also experiencing a boom, with the Organic Trade Association reporting sales growth of between 15 and 20 per cent a year. This translates into obvious opportunities for suppliers that can give manufacturers organic alternatives to the conventional ingredients they usually use. Speaking for Wholesome, however, CEO Niger Willerton drew particular attention to the effect the new investment from Imperial is likely to have on consumer products. "Imperial Sugar will provide a platform to translate our leadership in the natural and organic channel into the mainstream retail environment, as well as the additional resources to support innovation and new product development,"​ he said.​ As for the financial outlook for Imperial, Sheptor said he expects the new investment to enhance its margins relative to its traditional sugar processing and marketing business. Wholesome Sweeteners reported sales of $43m in 2007, and has seen annual growth of 30 per cent in the last three years. Imperial Sugar reported annual sales of $875.5m last year, down from $946.8m in 2006.

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