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Maintaining the flow of pure sugars to industry then (1978) and now (2022)

18/08/2022 By Ben Eastick in Heritage Ragus history, Ragus values

Ragus has maintained its supply of pure sugars for manufacture to its customers this year, despite food and beverage supply chains being stretched almost to breaking point. This is not the first time we have overcome huge challenges to keep food manufacturers producing for the nation. During the 1978-1979 Winter of Discontent, a previous generation of the Eastick family helped ensure food security, as Barry Eastick, grandson of Ragus founder Charles Eastick, explains.  

Two perfect storms of disruption 45 years apart

“There are many parallels between the challenges we faced during the industrial unrest of the late seventies, and the supply chain pressures today’s Ragus is facing,” notes Barry. “Whatever the causes, though, my brother Ron and I had the same goals then as Peter, James and Ben have today – keep the sugar flowing to our customers, and food products to the nation.” 

A combination of post-pandemic disruption, Brexit and the war in Ukraine has global food transport infrastructure and supply chains reeling during 2022, driving up prices and making some products almost impossible to source. Just-in-time manufacturing processes have had to adapt, with far higher levels of raw materials stockholding.

According to Barry, in 1978, it was different, but the outcome was the same: “Strikes by transport workers had a similar impact on supplier deliveries. Tate & Lyle’s drivers were all unionised, for example, so when the drivers went on strike and stopped driving, all supplies from their factories and the Silvertown refinery pretty much ground to a halt.”

How does Ragus respond to supply chain challenges?

In 1978, another Ragus value, entrepreneurship, came to the fore, as Barry highlights: “We mostly supplied refined white and raw sugars, cane and golden syrup, and invert sugar syrups for the bakery market, as a shelf-life extender for biscuits, buns, cakes and confectionery. This was in the days before there were chemical additives to do the same. That meant Ragus was well known in the industry, and we had relationships with many of the leading UK food businesses.

“When the strikes began and deliveries stopped, some of our existing customers asked if we could supply other sugars. Of course, Ron and I said yes. And I found myself on the road three or four days a week, knocking on the doors of food businesses that couldn’t secure reliable supply, whilst Ron kept the factory manufacturing pure sugar products.”

Image of Barry Eastick and a letter of thanks received from United Biscuits in 1973

Barry Eastick in 1979, alongside a letter from an appreciative customer, United Biscuits.

In the pre-internet, and even pre-fax machine days, the objective to close a sale was no different, but the business processes were. Although still a major element of Ragus business culture today, visiting customers was a huge part of nurturing relationships. A visit by Barry was followed by letter with a quotation, and a response from the customer would take a further five days or so, with an order.  

Barry notes this marked a step change in the business in many ways. Multiple converging factors, all aligned with Ragus values, enabled the business to supply those food companies unable to source sugars from their traditional suppliers. Ragus’ focus on customer service, its nimbleness and flexibility, alongside the Eastick brothers’ entrepreneurial outlook, enabled changes throughout the company.

Quality, capacity, on time and on spec delivery, underpinned by customer service

The factory and its workers switched to 24/7 operation. Quality became a greater focus, especially when Barry secured Marks & Spencer’s biscuit supplier as a new customer. M&S was ahead of its time on issues such as quality and supply chain management, meaning Ragus was carefully vetted for quality, and focused on refocusing some of its processes accordingly too.

Significant investment in greater factory space in Bedford Avenue and new stainless-steel plant to meet quality requirements also meant increased capacity. All of this was underpinned by Ragus’ small but effective delivery fleet of three lorries and drivers, who worked solidly, day in day out, to meet delivery schedules, while their competitors’ fleets sat idle. There was also a van with a 3.5 tonne payload used for urgent tactical deliveries to customers about to run out of sugar, to keep their production lines running.

Image of Ragus Sugars tanker from 1979

Our modest tanker fleet and van kept the sugar flowing during the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79.

These new customers stayed with Ragus after the industrial unrest settled down, recognising the value of diversifying supply sources. Particularly one that delivers on time and to specification.    

Quality, capacity, on time and on spec delivery are all values still associated with the business in 2022. Ragus today, with its industry leading quality, customer service and factory teams, led by Ron and Barry’s sons, Peter, James and Ben, has maintained supply through many challenges. Pure sugar manufacture for industry continued throughout the pandemic, throughout the post-pandemic global distribution challenges and continues during the war in Ukraine.

New plant is being installed to increase capacity and capabilities to better meet customer needs. The existing modern factory, on the same Slough industrial estate as the original Bedford Avenue site, completed in 2012 and constantly upgraded since, will feature new dry sugar production and liquid storage facilities in the coming months.

Current Ragus factory exterior

Our current factory, replacing the original Bedford Avenue site in 2012.

Why values matter for the future

Barry and Ron retired in 1990, handing over the reins to the fourth generation of the Eastick family, Peter, James and Ben. In 2017, the fifth generation of the Eastick family joined the business, Peter’s son Henry. The future guardian of Ragus values, Henry’s role focuses on responsibility, sustainability and governance, a huge area of interest for the global food and beverage brands that are the customers of Ragus today.

Image of Barry Eastick, with son Ben Eastick, his wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter

Three generations of the Eastick family, past, present and future.

Barry concludes: “My grandfather Charles invented golden syrup in 1883, after founding a sugar business with his brother John in 1880, and he went on to run the Martineaus refinery, before founding Ragus in 1928. With Henry joining Ragus in 2017, there has been a direct line of the Eastick family in the sugar industry for nearly 140 years.”

Throughout that time, Ragus has manufactured high quality sugar products meeting the needs of its customers as they have varied over the years. Today, Ragus manufactures pure sugars in bulk for industrial customers in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors.     

Ragus’ values of quality and customer service have been maintained down the generations. Find out more about ordering bulk pure sugars for your application by contacting our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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