U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry made a stop in Lincolnton Monday afternoon to hear firsthand from a local-industry leader on how the high price of sugar in the United States is a detriment to his and other domestic businesses.
Billy Henry, CEO of Lucky Country, a manufacturer of soft gourmet licorice located in the Lincoln County Industrial Park, is one of many sugar-using company leaders calling for Congress to reform the sugar program in the 2012 Farm Bill. He believes revisions to the program, which critics have described as “outdated,” will allow his company and other businesses to be more competitive.
The price of sugar in the U.S. is almost twice as much a pound when compared to the world average, he said. With a “pretty aggressive” new-product development planned to be rolled out in 2013, he expects next year to be their biggest yet and hopes reform will help make that possible.
The company currently purchases 1.5 million pounds of sugar a year, both directly and through a sugar broker in Charlotte. A 20-cent decline in the price could result in half a million dollars in savings, said Lucky Country Controller Michael Bratt.
Soft-drink competitors Pepsi and Coke play a role in determining that price, he added.
Additionally, Lucky Country can use only pure cane sugar, as that from beets results in a chemical reaction that makes people sick when used in licorice, Henry said.
Unlike many chocolate candies, licorice isn’t a seasonal good, with sales “pretty consistent year-round,” he noted.
Following a tour of the plant, McHenry said that having a sugar-based manufacturer in Lincoln County that exports around the world “is extraordinary” given the current sugar costs, noting that it also boosts feeder companies that supply the bags and boxes the product is shipped in.
Many confectioners these days are opting to locate in Canada for the lower prices.
McHenry also noted that it was an honor to have had Lucky Country choose to operate here, adding that visiting industries like it is one of the “better parts of the job.”
Henry said in summary that the customer demand is there; he just hopes for a level playing field when it comes to domestic sugar prices.
Lucky Country products are manufactured entirely at the Lincolnton plant and are sold at various retailers throughout the United States and in some locations overseas. The local facility opened in 2005 and employs roughly 40 workers.
McHenry faces N.C. Rep. Patsy Keever, D-Asheville, in November’s election for the state’s 10th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.