Brown sugar still missing from supermarket shelves after recall last year

Keen home bakers desperate to get their hands on a bag of soft brown sugar had their chance this month when limited supplies appeared on shelves – but the relief was short and sweet.

Empty shelves face consumers again, as local and imported brown sugar sells out fast.

Baking, porridge, and marinades around New Zealand have been without the sweet stuff for months after all New Zealand distributed brown and raw sugar was recalled.

New Zealand’s only sugar refinery, NZ Sugar Limited, made four recalls of sugar products after low levels of lead were detected in some batches.

Products sold under Chelsea, Pams, and Countdown were all affected.

A spokesperson for NZ Sugar Limited said the production of soft brown sugar and raw sugar was back up and running.

“We have been prioritising production of some pack sizes, for example, 1kg bags of soft brown sugar, while we continue to ramp-up production,” they said.

“Stock is flowing through to our customers and consumers, and anecdotally we know that stock is selling quite quickly at the moment.”

The recalls had home bakers scrambling, as soft brown sugar is a staple for many sweet and savoury treats.

Alternative marinades were found for the Christmas ham, and home bakers settled on recipes that didn’t require it.

The recall also affected other brands, such as RJ’s Licorice, which had used the contaminated sugar in its product.

At the time NZ Sugar indicated brown sugar would be back on the shelves in December 2021 but that never happened.

Countdown supermarkets and Foodstuffs, which operates New World and Pak’nSave, started importing brown sugar from Australia until New Zealand supplies were available.

A spokesperson for Countdown said the company had its own branded product coming in from Australia but it was still limited.

Shoppers spoken to by the Herald had seen brown sugar intermittently on shelves but it sold out immediately.

Others had not laid eyes on it for months.

“Every time I go to order it online it says it is either not available or if I do get to order it is not in the groceries when they arrive,” one shopper said.

Food Safety New Zealand is still investigating the brown and raw sugar recall process after concerns about the way it was handled.

Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, said it expected businesses to run recalls smoothly and said it had not happened.

There was an initial recall on November 4, 2021 and then two further recalls followed in November after Woolworths NZ, which operates Countdown, FreshChoice and SuperValue, and Foodstuffs South Island, accidentally restocked the product.

The fourth recall of about 8000 packets of raw sugar was announced in December.

“To that end we have started an investigation to identify any issues within the businesses’ recall process.”

The investigation was ongoing Arbuckle said.

• More information about the recalled products can be found here.

Kiwis doing it for themselves

Home baker Pamela Lim is always in the kitchen and has made birthday and wedding cakes for friends and family.

“I had a two-tier wedding cake to make for my daughter’s friend just as the recall happened and I really needed brown sugar for the banana cake tier,” Lim said.

“I looked everywhere and then ended up finding a recipe for brown sugar on the internet.”

Lim mixed a cup of caster sugar, which was not affected by the recall, and a tablespoon of molasses and said the result was better than what she would normally use.

“I’m continuing to make it like that because I still can’t find it on the shelves,” Lim said.

“It was actually so much nicer than the normal stuff. My husband took the first lot I made to work for his coffee.”

Lim said other New Zealanders must have cottoned onto the Molasses recipe as that too was sold out.

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