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Tate & Lyle to sell sugar business for £211m

Tate & Lyle's historic sugars business was set to fall into US hands today after the firm agreed a £211 million sale.

The group is selling its European sugar refining business, which includes its Golden Syrup factory in London, to American Sugar Refining - and has given the US firm a perpetual worldwide licence to use the famous brand name.

Chief executive Javed Ahmed said: "Sugar refining has enjoyed a long and proud history within Tate & Lyle, but we believe the interests of this business and its employees are now best served by being part of a company for whom sugar refining is core."

Tate & Lyle's sugars business traces its roots back to 1878 and the Thames refinery opened in Silvertown, east London, by founder Henry Tate after he bought up the rights to the newly invented sugar cube.

Abram Lyle, who opened his own refinery in nearby Plaistow in 1883, first began putting Golden Syrup into its famous green and gold tins in 1885 after it proved an instant success with customers. The syrup is made from by-products in the sugar refining process.

The two firms eventually merged in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle, refining around 50% of the country's sugar between them. It was a founder member of the FT-30 Index and is one of only two of the original companies still listed today.

Tate & Lyle is now pursuing higher margin businesses and today around two-thirds of its profits come from supplying sweeteners, starches and ethanol, with the rest from sugar and sucralose sweeteners.

The company endured a run of profits warnings in recent years due to factors such as the weak US dollar, lower sugar prices after EU reforms and higher European corn costs.

It has concentrated on its "value added business" which includes ingredients for food such as soups, sauces and dressings.

The businesses falling into US hands - which also include its operations in Portugal and a consulting arm - generated revenues of £689 million in the year to March and underlying profits of £14 million.

The firm, which will be left with a loss of £55 million on the sale, plans to use the proceeds to help reduce its net debts, which were £814 million at the end of March.