Pure water is next on the production line for Sunshine Sugar.
In a world first, the northern NSW-based sugar mill is about to produce and bottle water extracted from sugar cane.
“When the cane comes in, it’s about 70% moisture,” Sunshine Sugar CEO Chris Connors said.
“We’ll crush the cane and take that water and put it through reverse osmosis and other filtration plants and end up with a product that can be put into bottles.”
The project is part of a five-year strategic plan to keep Sunshine Sugar — and the industry as a whole — sustainable.
“We’re going to diversify the sugar industry here in NSW away from just being a crystal sugar producer,” Mr Connors said.
“Part of our business plan is to develop alternative products. We want to put at least five new products out in the next few years.
“Low GI sugar was the first one off the ranks, the water is next.
"We’re putting in a whole new plant this year and looking at building these plants around the world. It’ll be a great outcome.
“If we stay the way we are and just produce sugar, we’re going to get to a point where we’re just not going to be sustainable.”
The water project is a collaboration with manufacturer Aqua Botanicals, which already harvests and bottles water stored in fruit and vegetables.
But the technology has never been used with sugar cane.
“It’s water, full stop,” Mr Connors said.
“It’s as pure as you can get. Very fresh. Crystal clear.
“It doesn’t have any other things in it. It’s pure and simple water. If you cracked open a stalk of cane, you would see that it was quite moist. Think about it. What’s in it? It’s got sugar, it’s got a lot of fibre and it’s got a lot of water. Doing this makes sense.
“When you think about what the big issues of the world are — not just in Australia — water is key.
“If we can produce 100-120 million litres over the next few years, there’s a great answer for a lot of things.
“It’s green, it’s environmentally friendly and it’s a great product that answers community issues and concerns.”
Sunshine Sugar already uses the fibre from cane sugar to generate power and steam to run its operations.
Mr Connors said the innovative water project was an exciting next step for the whole industry.
“This kind of innovation doesn’t just give me some drive, it gives the whole industry something to move forward on," he said.
“It creates a positive background for everything. Growers know that we’re doing something different. At the end of the day, they want their prices, but they want their cane crushed and when you’re out there doing other things to make sure the industry is sustainable — not just the mills but the growers, as well — you get a lot of support.
“You always find in these situations that when you’re doing something different and having a go, as long as you tell your members (the growers), you get a lot of support.
“It’s exciting because all the things we’re doing are really healthy and green.”
Sunshine Sugar, a partnership of the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative and The Manildra Group, has been part of the Australian Industry Group for 11 years. Prior to the establishment of the Ai Group Confectionery Sector, it had been a member of the stand-alone Confectionery Manufacturers of Australasia.
"Ai Group’s breadth of industry sector knowledge and extensive business network means it is a trusted source of information and advice for Sunshine Sugar, The Manildra Group and the NSW sugar industry. In particular, the Ai Group Confectionery Sector keeps us up to date with confectionery advocacy, news and information and assistance with technical confectionery matters. This is invaluable given the demand for specialist sugar products we produce at our facilities in NSW. Ai Group is one of the most reputable groups linking industry to the latest and most relevant information, services and advice." — CEO Chris Connors
Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a former journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.