cooperative success, sweet for 150 years
The Northern Rivers is home to generations of cane farming families who have not only built the sugar industry, but also saved the local cane industry when CSR threatened to close down the three sugar mills in the 1970s.
Jim Sneesby, Sunshine Sugar’s chairman and a cane grower himself, remembers well how cane growers from across the Northern Rivers banded together to buy the mills at Condong, Broadwater and Harwood from CSR, forming a co-operative and lobbying government to ensure their success. Jim’s father Bill was one of the driving forces behind the negotiations and successful acquisition.
“Thanks to the commitment of farmers and staff, Sunshine Sugar stands as the only 100 per cent Australian grown and owned sugar business, and we have remained Australian owned for 150 years,” says Jim, adding that he’s proud of the family ownership style of business.
The Sneesbys, like other Northern Rivers cane farming families, not only live and work sugar, they co-own the business. “This means profits stay here in our community,” Jim says.
Sunshine Sugar’s mills are the longest operating sugar mills in Australia, having crushed cane continuously since the 1870s. Today they provide direct employment for more than 400 people, making Sunshine Sugar one of the largest employers in the Northern Rivers.
With more than 300 customers nationally, Sunshine Sugar manufactures private label sugar for some of Australia’s major retailers as well as their own Sunshine Sugar label, which includes raw, refined, caster, icing and brown sugar as well as molasses, golden syrup and treacle.
CEO of Sunshine Sugar for the past ten years, Chris Connors, has led the NSW Sugar Industry through some of its toughest and some of its most successful times.
“The sugar industry, like any other, comes with risks and challenges,” Chris says.
“Whether facing local issues such as disease, droughts and floods or competing in an often unpredictable global commodity market – Sunshine Sugar and its farming families are resilient and seem to always find their way forward.”
The struggle to survive and ability to thrive as a standalone industry in NSW has required a clear business plan. “Our strategy is underpinned by the need for our growers to remain viable, our cane land sustainable and our mills fully utilised. We are driving continuous improvement across all of these areas and developing alternate income streams; from the farmer right through the milling operation,” Chris says.
From traditional sugars, to Low-GI sugar, syrups and cane juice; to alcohols, explosives and waste treatment solutions – Sunshine Sugar is equipping itself with a diversified portfolio of products and assets to deliver long term competitiveness and sustainability.
With a plan in place and the business continuing to grow, Sunshine Sugar looks set to remain a major player in the Northern Rivers economy.