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25th September 2017

Healthy Sugar a Reality with New Low GI Cane Sugar

The NSW Sugar Industry is looking to become the leading Australian producer of nucane™, a Low-GI Sugar, with Sunshine Sugar having signed a license agreement with food technology innovator, Nutrition Innovation.

Nutrition Innovation has developed a technology and algorithm to retain naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium in the production of cane sugar which has been certified as Low-GI to World Health Organisation Standards.

Sunshine Sugar will be the first in the world to install the technology to produce nucane - a sugar that is rich in antioxidants with a low glycemic index. It is specifically designed for industrial customers who require a precise and consistent, but healthier specification for sugar to use in their existing brands and recipes.  

"The world is ready for nucane." Says CEO of Nutrition Innovation, Matthew Godfrey. "What the team here have invented is a potential game changer for world health. nucane is aimed at helping to combat the global obesity and diabetes epidemic via partnerships between sugar mills and brands to increase healthier options for consumers worldwide. It can be used in all forms of food and beverages.”

Sunshine Sugar is currently preparing its Condong mill which is a food grade sugar mill to manufacture nucane.

CEO, Chris Connors commented; “With a worldwide focus on health concerns such as obesity and diabetes, nucane offers an opportunity for sugar producers such as Sunshine Sugar to manufacture a healthier cane sugar on a scale that makes it widely available and affordable.

“Sunshine Sugar is in fact the only 100% Bonsucro certified and Australian owned sugar operation in the world and is proud to be an Australian company leading the way in this initiative.”


The Land

Jamie Brown
21 Dec 2017

Sunshine Sugar CEO Chris Connors is heading a team of clever marketers intent on selling New South Wales' sweet production into new and diverse markets.

Sunshine Sugar, a marketing brand comprising the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative and its partner Manildra, is promoting diversity as a path towards price stability.

This is not to say Northern Rivers’ producers aren’t well paid.This year the in-field 1.9 million tonne cane crop will bring $36/t with up to 150 tonnes/ha delivered to mills at Harwood on the Clarence, Broadwater on the Richmond and Condong on the Tweed.

That’s good money, considering the world price is around $26/t.

But CEO Chris Connors says the chances of repeating price success year in and year out is not an easy task. We have a policy of looking to hedge prices to take out the volatility of the sugar market but that is not always possible.

That is why we need a business plan that can deliver alternative income streams so that growers and the business are not faced with the historical boom times and bust.

At the moment Australia consumes a million tonnes of the sweet stuff every year while growers and refiners produce 400,000 tonnes more than that.

“The domestic market is very competitive,” explained Mr Connors. And, with the likes of Singapore-based Wilmar directing traffic on the export market, the sale of refined white sugar is up against a sour ceiling.

“We are significantly impacted,” he admitted. “For many years we have just weathered the storm and we have undertaken some extraordinary actions to keep the growers and the business sustainable.

“However there are not too many more rabbits left in the hat. The economics of exporting raw sugar doesn’t stack up. Transport to Brisbane wharf alone would be another $30/tonne and Australian ports are notoriously expensive.”

Mr Connors said the recent ‘Japan deal’, in which three shipments of 30,000 tonnes were forward sold above $540/t, certainly helped cushion grower pain against current export returns.

“But we can’t rely on deals like that,” he said. “We can’t just sit here and do nothing different. We have to diversify.”

Our strategic business plan has 32 different action plans and a key part of the plan is our diversification projects - Chris Connors, CEO Sunshine Sugar

Great ideas

As a result, the co-operative has been researching new ways to sell the lot –  from fibre and trash to juice, liquor, sugars, molasses and syrups.

Their partnership with Manildra is seen as favourable by Rabobank, which has made $30m available on loan, provided each project is separately assessed.

“Our strategic business plan has 32 different action plans and a key part of the plan is our diversification projects,” Mr Connors said. “There are currently 10 diversification projects being independently assessed by teams from within the organisation all of whom report back to the board for scrutiny.

“Along with this expansion of ideas there has been cultural change involving staff at all levels. We are involving people that have knowledge and we are looking at continuous improvement from the farmer to the harvesting crew and right through the mill.”

NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative has successfully sold excess capacity, such as this pile which went via the ‘Japan deal’. However stable returns in future will rely on niche marketing rather than commodity export.

Payback time

Mr Connors is an advocate of short-term change, and works on a three to five year timeline.

“A ten year payback is too slow if you want to change the business,” he said.

The first project under this new approach paid back in less than 12 months and it was self-funded: A castor sugar plant which doubled capacity and found ready markets as identified in the field by Sunshine Sugar’s sales guys.

The second initiative out of the blocks is a low glycemic index sugar plant producing “Nucane” out of the Condong mill in partnership with a company called Nutrition Innovation, which in turn is involved with Sydney University.

The process converts raw sugar to a low GI level of 55, retaining the organics, antioxidants and polyphenols that naturally occur in sugar cane.

“Our unique process ensures we have a product that is less processed, less refined and low GI based on World Health Organisation standards,” said Mr Connors.

“Our technology ensures Nucane is very precise and consistent which enables industrial customers to use it in their brands as we can guarantee the exact specification every-time from any mill.”

Just six months after launch Sunshine Sugar has 40 customers trialing Nucane in fruit juice, canned products, flavoured milks, soy milk, yoghurts, breads, baked goods, ice-cream, confectionary, chocolates, sauces and quick service restaurants.

The next project to impact the market will be explosives suitable for the mining industry –  environmentally friendly, inert until mixed on-site, and waterproof –  not what you’d expect from sugar. This ‘more bang for the buck’ product will be up in 12 months and could potentially absorb 10-20 per cent of NSW production.

Not much further down the track Sunshine Sugar s looking at a boutique rum and gin distillery at the Broadwater mill, using either molasses, sugar syrup or cane juice.

“The local council is very supportive of the plan but, like all our ideas, it must meet our business criteria,” said Mr Connors.

Cane juice also has a market as a niche health tonic and Sunshine Sugar is working with green juice producers Botanica to develop a range with a shelf life beyond 100 days.

Sugar also has a role in digesting sewage, with custom liquid recipes designed to fed particular microbes. This syrup is already being trialed in two treatment plants in the Hunter and Mr Connors says the nation-wide potential is enormous.

Molasses has always been a product held in high esteem by people running livestock and now the Australian owned business is marketing its premium range into China as a women’s health supplement. It is likely that the price of molasses will increase as a result.

“This is a positive in ensuring the bottom line and the return to growers,” said Mr Connors.

When it comes to cane trash the co-operative is investigating its use as a feedstock for methane digesters, or biogas plants capable of producing electricity. Already the three mills are connected to the grid and deliver more than 100 megawatts of power by burning cane trash or bagasse in specially designed boilers, although profits from those designated plants no longer flow into the co-operative’s coffers.

Time to act

Mr Connors said the next two years were shaping up to be a challenge, with predicted tonnage down 10 per cent to 1.8m tonnes as a result of a cold and damp spring plant which followed the extremes of wet and dry.

“It is so important that we target the next two years,” he said.

“Forward selling of our excess production has worked in the past but now with a low-forecast crop and the market down we need a program in place to get prices for producers up. This reinforces the message that we’ve got to do something else.”

Bill Scales

Harwood Sugar Mill Fulfils Bucket List request

99-year-old Bill Scales was a very special guest at the Harwood Sugar Mill and Refinery today.

The former Grafton Ophthalmologist and current resident at Mareeba Aged Care in Maclean, only recently lost his beloved wife of 73 years. It was then that Bill decided to make a list of goals for himself to achieve in the next year.

Bills goals are to 1. make it to 100 years of age, which he will do next February; 2. participate in another ANZAC Day March; and 3. visit the Harwood Sugar Mill.

Operations Manager, Grant Kaczorowski and Engineer Peter Coram were only too happy to help Bill realise his goal of touring the Sugar Mill.

Accompanied by his daughters Deb and Bel, a thrilled Bill remarked that the steam engine and raw sugar shed capable of storing 100,000 tonnes of raw sugar were amongst his highlights.

8th December 2017
Harwood SChool visit 2017
Staff and students from the Harwood Island Public School walked from their school to the Sugar Mill today to see just how the local Sunshine Sugar is made. From watching the cane trucks tip their 22 tonne loads of billets into a giant shredding machine, through to the 100,000 tonne capacity raw sugar shed and into the refinery and packing station – the students were amazed by every step in the journey sugar makes from the paddock through to the final pack. The NSW Sugar Industry prides itself on being a business that regularly engages with the local community. As well as being a major employer and contributor to the local economy, in the past 12 months alone, Sunshine Sugar has hosted numerous school groups, sponsored over 30 local community groups and donated combinations of cash, product and prizes to many more throughout the Northern Rivers.

The Tweed Cane Industry was once again on display in the cane pavilion at the annual Tweed Agricultural Show. Stewards Graham Martin, Greg O’Connor, Allan Quirk and John Harbison worked hard leading up to teh show, collecting and installing the cane stalk exhibits.

John Harbison, Tweed Cane Grower and Director of Sunshine Sugar commented; “Whilst entries of cane stalks overall are down on previous years, the quality is exceptional, particularly given the flood event earlier this year and the fact that we are at the tail end of the season with over three-quarters of our crop harvested.”

Judge, Malcolm Warren, the Agricultural Officer for Sunshine Sugar judged the 26 categories which included 15 individual variety sections, as well as weight and sugar content classes.

The pavilion this year also boasted a display of some of the sugar and molasses products that are made from the sugar cane grown locally and made here in the Northern Rivers.

Tweed Show.display2

20th September 2017

Fresh Faced Broadwater Trainee

Monique Doyle is the friendly young face you will meet at the Broadwater Sugar Mill Reception desk.

Monique, a Ballina local, is studying for her Certificate III in Business and Administration. Just two months into a six-month traineeship with Sunshine Sugar, Monique is relishing the experience of learning a range of new skills in office and reception administration.

Having previously worked in hospitality, Monique enjoys the challenges and opportunities that office administration in a larger organisation offer. “Being able to put the things that I am learning at TAFE into practice here at work has been really great;” says Monique.

Having earned her provisional driver’s license the same week as being offered the traineeship, Monique felt that everything was falling into place. Driving to work each day, talking to lots of different people on the job and combining study and work has made the past couple of months a rounded learning experience for Monique.

Sunshine Sugar offers a range of traineeships and apprenticeships each year, with placements made at each of its three sites across the northern rivers.


11th September 2017

Cane Season Sweet So Far

The 2017 NSW cane season is progressing well with just over 40% of the 2 million tonne crop harvested, as of the first week in September. 

A wet start in June created some difficult conditions for both the harvesting and milling sectors.  However, the cane quality improved with cool, dry conditions bringing CCS (sugar content) and cane purity back to favorable levels.

Already this year, some newer cane varieties have shown their potential, with Q208 a stand-out plant that is delivering excellent yields and sugar content across the three mill areas.

Mr Chris Connors, CEO of Sunshine Sugar remarked; “The resilience of the sugar cane crop and the people involved in the industry continues to surprise and delight. The crops in the Tweed are showing strong recovery despite the catastrophic flood in April; and whilst growers and harvesting crews have had to deal with huge amounts of flood debris lodged in the cane, they have managed to keep supply up to the mill.”

As is the case in many flood affected cane areas of Queensland, it is only through the burning of crops that much of this debris can be accessed and removed.

The mill at Condong, which also suffered flood damage, has performed well. Mr Connors puts this down to the efforts of employees and contractors involved in its repair and recommissioning.

To the south, the expansion into areas of the Richmond west of the Broadwater mill, towards Casino, is seeing good cane yields and excellent cane quality. This is a strong endorsement of the potential the area has as a viable cane growing region. The Broadwater mill has consistently performed well this year and is keeping up with the harvesting sector as they take advantage of the good field conditions. 

Despite Harwood mill suffering some mechanical issues during the first part of the season, the Clarence crush is back on track and anticipated to finish in the first week of December.

As the extended dry period enables the harvesting sector to maintain momentum - some Spring rain will soon be welcome as growers look to begin planting new crops and fertilizing their ratoons.

Woodburn Festival2

7th September 2017

Sunshine Sugar Sweetens up Woodburn Riverside Festival

In its sixth year this October, the Woodburn Riverside Festival has once again received support from the local sugar industry.

The family fun day, which is organised by volunteers from the local Woodburn community, has become an iconic event over the past few years. Event organiser, Pam Bellingham described the Festival as “an event run by the community, for the community.”

Sunshine Sugar has been a sponsor of the Festival every year since its inception. This year the local sugar mill will be the major sponsor of both the classic Raft Race as well as the highly competitive Biathlon. This sponsorship has enabled the event committee to offer higher value prize monies this year, which they are hoping will generate even more interest from local water enthusiasts and athletes.

Mrs Bellingham, along with President of the Woodburn Event Team, Mr Glenn Crawford presented Broadwater Sugar Mill Manager, Mr David Wood with a Gold Sponsor Certificate of appreciation this week.

David Wood commented; “Our local communities are really important to our business. In recognition of this, we try to support community groups and events such as the Woodburn Riverside Festival, which are run for the benefit and enjoyment of the local community.”

The Woodburn Riverside Festival will be held on Saturday 14th October and is a full day of family-oriented activity and entertainment on the Richmond River and Riverside Park at Woodburn. The Woodburn Event Team Inc., which organises the Festival, is a non-profit group working to organise events for the social benefit of the residents of Woodburn and surrounds.

Alina and Kathryn

7th September 2017

The Faces and Places Behind NSW Sugar

Victorian Restauranteur Kathryn Russack has teamed up with Photographer Alina Golovachenko on an exploration of the people and places behind the sugar industry of Northern New South Wales.

This is the second collaboration undertaken by the pair and has been inspired by Kathryn’s quest for knowledge about where sugar comes from, who produces it, and how it is made; along with Alina’s passion for capturing the essence of a subject through imagery.

Kathryn remarked; “As a restauranteur, I know many of my food suppliers by name and pride myself in sourcing wholesome Australian ingredients. Because sugar is such a staple ingredient in commercial and home-kitchens alike, I wanted to see firsthand where it is grown and what is involved in the making of this very versatile food.”

Having spent a week touring through the Northern Rivers meeting with cane growers and their families, local businesses and touring the Harwood Mill and Refinery; the pair admit that the generosity and warm-heartedness of the people they have met throughout the northern rivers has left them in awe.

Kathryn also commented; “The soil and the people who work the land here just seem to go together. There is a natural connection between them and a shared passion for seeing sugar produced here, now and into the future. The area should be proud of its sugar tradition.”

Whilst the visit was both a personal and professional excursion, it is envisaged that the stories and images will be put forward in a photographic exhibition and shared across a breadth of food and beverage industries.

Brayden Loy.Student

5th September 2017

Building Skills In The Sugar Trade                      

Local Maclean High School student Brayden Loy, recently spent a week undertaking work experience at the Harwood Sugar Mill, where he was able to apply skills from his metal work studies.

Brayden, who is also doing workplace training with a local carpenter as part of his wood work studies, found the week a valuable real-life experience.

“My project for the week was to interpret the drawing, plan and build a reclaimer rake which will be used as a part of the boiler fuel management system for controlling the supply of bagasse to the boiler. It was great that I was given the opportunity to plan and build something for a specific job and then weld it myself.”

CEO of Sunshine Sugar, Mr Chris Connors said; “It is a great thing to be able to offer young people from our local community the opportunity to learn real skills in real-life situations. Our staff get a great deal of satisfaction in supporting and working with students, especially those like Brayden, who come into our business with such a positive approach and can-do attitude.” 

Sunshine Sugar will be continuing the work experience program for metal working students, with at least two more pupils from Maclean High School scheduled to complete their week long experience at the Harwood Mill and Refinery before the end of the year.  

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