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Audio of an interview with Chris Connors, CEO of Sunshine Sugar, which aired on ABC Country Hour can be accessed at the following link:

In this interview, Chris talks about Sunshine Sugar's new Low GI sugar and responds to questions regarding a proposed sugar tax in Australia.

Note: Interview with Chris commences at 17:00

20th March 2018

Ag Minister.190318

Sunshine Sugar welcomed the Federal Agriculture Minister, Mr David Littleproud along with local member for Page, Kevin Hogan, to its Harwood Mill and Refinery this week.

Sunshine Sugar CEO, Mr Chris Connors, hosted the delegation and said; “Mr Littleproud clearly has a good understanding of the Australian agricultural sector. This visit was a great opportunity for us to share our specific industry concerns and plans directly with him; with particular focus on our diversification projects such as Low GI sugar.”

This Low GI sugar is made using the nucane process.  An Australian technology, it applies an algorithm throughout the sugar milling stage to retain naturally occurring and beneficial antioxidants. Low GI sugar is a wholesome sugar that is more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised – allowing for a lower and slower rise in blood glucose. It is a 100% natural cane sugar that can be used in any food or beverage recipe.

The Agriculture Minister welcomed this innovation and shared his opposition to the introduction of a sugar tax, saying that he supported people’s right to make their own decisions around personal matters such as food and beverage consumption. With a background in agribusiness and politics, Mr Littleproud certainly has the credentials to serve rural and regional Australia. He is passionate in his belief that farmers are too often overlooked as custodians of the land and that more needs to be done to educate the nation about where and how our foods and fibres are made. As a supporter of the decentralisation of some government agencies, he also believes that moving jobs into regional centres is important and that every additional job in a regional area has a noticeable, positive impact on that local economy.

Mr Littleproud congratulated the Sunshine Sugar team on the development of their new Low-GI sugar and commitment to sustainable practice, and stands ready to support the NSW sugar industry in his role as Minister for Agriculture.

Photo L to R: Chris Connors, CEO of Sunshine Sugar; Kevin Hogan, Member for Page, holding a bowl of locally produced Low GI sugar; David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture


Aired 26 February 2018

30 January 2018 
Electrical engineering scholar enjoys Condong Sugar Mill work culture 
Life in a sugar mill feels like home to Michael Simmers.  A recipient of the prestigious Sugar Research Institute Scholarship in 2017, Michael recently completed a work placement at Sunshine Sugar’s Condong Mill and couldn’t be happier with the experience.
“I already feel extremely lucky to be working with engineers who have a wealth of industry experience and their understanding of the variability and diversity of the electrical projects at the mill,” Mr Simmers said.
The Queensland University of Technology electrical engineering student has been able to apply his skills to projects and embrace the positive, supportive work culture at Condong Mill. 
“I have a fairly good idea of how the main processes operate, however, each mill is individual along with its employees,” Mr Simmers said.
Condong Sugar Mill electrical engineering superintendent Nigel McDowell said that the work placements provide students with a valuable learning experience plus support the projects being undertaken during their placement.
“Michael’s second placement was very easy to move into due to his first placement experience and the way he has been received by the staff during this placement,” Mr McDowell said.
Sugar Research Institute training and development manager Bruce King said that Michael was one of four successful scholarship recipients’ chosen on their proven ability to work well in a team environment and to create positive practical outcomes.
“Electrical engineering students like Michael are able to apply theory learned from their studies and the processes of problem solving to understand the process of electrical design and testing in real world environments,” Mr King said.
The Sugar Research Institute Scholarship is awarded to students in their penultimate year studying chemical, mechanical, process or electrical engineering or science degrees with an interest in working in the Australian sugar processing industry. 
Scholarship recipients undertake three work placements of four weeks in Australian sugar mills during crushing and maintenance seasons.
Applications for the Sugar Research Institute Scholarship close 12 March 2018. For more information visit:   Sugar Research Institute’s understanding of the science of sugar processing helps sugar mills and refineries worldwide to maximise sugar recovery, and to deliver best practice in process efficiency and plant design. SRI operates on a not-for-profit basis and is owned and supported by Australia’s sugar milling industry. 
For further information, please contact: Max Russell - Communications Coordinator, Sugar Research Institute | M:  0407 589 790
January 2018… 2/3
A wide variety of food products could be made with dramatically lower sugar levels after an Australian technology firm secured a landmark partnership with two of the world’s leading food engineering companies and NSW sugar growers. The development has the potential to deliver a market-led response to high obesity rates and poor nutrition around the world. In Australia, it may also help circumvent a political stalemate over the role of governments in guiding consumer dietary choices. Health groups have long called for the introduction of a sugar tax to make soft drinks, in particular, less affordable, but the Coalition and Labor favour other approaches. The firm known as Nutrition Innovation Group, the brainchild of Sydney food scientist David Kannar, has developed a manufacturing process that delivers a healthier, low-GI industrial sugar known as Nucane that can be used by food manufacturers as a substitute for refined sugar. While Dr Kannar has been promising his process can change the world for more than a decade, Nutrition Innovation has now struck a series of agreements with heavyweight global and local players. They include international food engineering companies Foss and Schneider Electric, who install production technology in sugar mills all over the world, and Sunshine Sugar, a joint partnership between Manildra and sugar growers in NSW that operate in the NSW Sugar Co-operative. Sunshine Sugar chief executive Chris Connors said the group was preparing its Condong food-grade sugar mill on the Tweed River in northern NSW for the industrial-scale production of Nucane. “This is just a part of our business strategy. We are looking to diversify our income streams and not be just a producer of white crystal sugar,’’ Mr Connor said. “We are a raw sugar food-grade factory so this technology fits straight into our production arrangements.” Infrared technology with a proprietary algorithm developed by Nutrition Innovation allows the naturally occurring minerals found in cane sugar such as calcium, magnesium and potassium to be retained in the production process. It produces 100 per cent cane sugar that has the same taste and texture as regular white sugar, but a significantly lower GI. The sugar has been certified as low-GI to the World Health Organisation’s standards. “It (Nucane) is going to have a place in the world sugar market. There is no doubt about that. There will be strong support out of the health industry and from customers themselves. We are particularly focusing on the industrial side of it — in terms of supplying to ingredient businesses,’’ Mr Connors said. “I can see us in Australia leading the way initially on this and the world following. This is all about ensuring the sustainability of our growers.” The Australian Medical Association recently repeated its call for a sugar tax, claiming one in five Australians died from conditions related to poor diet and said it was “not an exaggeration to call sugar a killer”. The obesity rate among Australian adults increased from 19 per cent in 1995 to 28 per cent in 2014-15, with the high sugar contents in cheap soft drinks and processed foods cited by health groups as cause for alarm. A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said fresh fruit and vegetables were already cheaper due to the absence of the GST and “we don’t believe increasing the family grocery bill at the supermarket is the answer to this challenge”.

Dr Kannar, whose brother died during the development of Nucane after a battle with diabetes, said the product was designed for industrial customers in many supermarket staples. “We have a range of customers in trial in categories as diverse as beverages, fruit juice, canned products, flavoured milks, soy milk, yoghurts, breads, baked goods, ice-cream, confectionary, chocolates, sauces and quick service restaurants,’’ he said. “We additionally have customers in discussion or testing the product in Australia, Thailand, France, the US, the UK and Singapore ... we can scale rapidly to any mill in the world that accepts the technology and has food grade sugar mills.” He said Nutrition Innovation was also in talks with some supermarket operators on how their home-brand goods from baked goods to sauces could be made with Nucane to give them a competitive advantage. Foss instrumentation has been used in the sugar industry since 1999. As part of Nutrition Innovation’s partnership with Sunshine Sugar, Foss and Schneider-Electric will ensure the Nucane technology is installed, maintained, updated and configured to specification. Paul Slupecki, Foss’s vice-president sales and marketing for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the two firms would help increase capacity to other milling sites as demand for Nucane increased. “We have our first production trial running in Australia at Condong. It is going extremely well. There is a lot of interest in Australia and Southeast Asia where sugar is such a big part of the economies. As well as Brazil. Both Foss and Schneider have big and strong footprints in those regions,’’ he said. Mr Slupecki said Thailand was the first focus of the partners, given that as many as 50 sugar mills were set to be built there over the coming years. “To help make the world a healthier place, we have global ambition for Nucane. We aim to make it available to food and beverage manufacturers in all major markets,’’ said Nutrition Innovation CEO Matthew Godfrey. “Importantly, six out of the top 10 sugar cane producing countries in the world are in Asia. Therefore, while Australia is the market that is leading Nucane (and has clear export opportunities) to reach our goals, we need to have a strong Asian supply of Nucane. Markets like Thailand and India are major global exporters of cane sugar, while Indonesia and China have significant total consumption,” he said.
Chris Connors nucane
Photograph by Natalie Grono

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

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