Consumed around the world, sugar has become a diet staple.
To meet the ongoing international demand, Ingenio Presidente Benito Juárez (IPBJ), S.A. de C.V., a sugar refinery located in Tabasco, Mexico, has taken steps to increase production. However, in doing so, it ensures the protection and sustainability of its surrounding environment. “We want to have something here for our grandchildren,” notes Dr. Pedro Daniel Estrada, the refinery’s general director.
To this end, one of the company’s most recent projects involves a water treatment system. During 2011’s off-season for sugar cane, IPBJ created a plan that would allow water used for washing and refining to be recirculated. “The water enters the refinery from a lagoon system,” describes Estrada. “Our system guarantees that after being used for industrial processes, the water that drains back into the lagoon system has the same condition – or even better – than when it first entered the refinery.”
In February 2012, IPBJ complemented the recirculation system with a new installment that better conserves water, reducing the need for the Mexican refinery – which is located in Cárdenas and covers approximately 75 hectares – to dip into surface or underground water reserves.
IPBJ operations began in 1975, under the direction of the Mexican government, with an initial goal of meeting sugar demand in both the national and international markets. Today, 50 percent of the refinery’s sugar production remains in Mexico. The other 50 percent is exported to the United States.
Currently, 85 percent of IPBJ production focuses on refined white sugar. Ten percent results in special white sugar. The remaining five percent translates into unrefined sugar.
In 2008, IPBJ was acquired by Incauca, S.A., a Colombia-based enterprise that purchased 51 percent of the company’s stock.
Incauca, S.A. is Colombia’s largest refinery and has a reputation for producing high quality products. The company now oversees IPBJ operations.
Since acquiring IPBJ, Incauca, S.A. has strongly emphasized enhancing the quality of sugar produced at the refinery. To carry out this goal, it has implemented various programs and established a research and development department.
These efforts led to recent, highly visible results. In 2011, IPBJ achieved ISO 9001:2008 certification. Further, to expand production and increase efficiency, the refinery installed new equipment boasting the latest technology.
IPBJ sells its products in three presentations: 50 kilogram bags, 1,000 kilogram (1 ton) bags, and super bags that hold 1,500 kilograms. This year, the company is installing a new packaging machine with the capacity to produce 50-pound bags of sugar. IPBJ plans to send the new packages to the United States.
Colombia has the highest tons of cane per hectare (TCH) in the world. When Incauca S.A. took over IPBJ, it brought its vast amount of experience in cultivating and refining sugar to Mexico.
Shortly after taking over IPBJ, the new administration spotted opportunities in the refinery’s surrounding area. “The zone has important agricultural potential,” notes Estrada. “Our company and the organization of sugar cane growers here made a pact to increase raw material production over the coming years.”
To aid sugar cane growers, IPBJ implemented a number of extension programs and training classes for the workers. The result of this pact has been a steady increase in production rates. In 2009, the refinery ground 715,207 tons of sugar cane, reaching a final sugar production amount of 81,681 tons. In 2010, it ground 966,027 tons of sugar cane, resulting in 104,179 tons of processed sugar.
In 2011, due to weather conditions, production dropped slightly. IPBJ ground 768,513 tons of sugar cane, with the end result of 82,008 tons of sugar. In 2012, however, it expects growth once more: The company plans to ground 990, 281 tons of ground sugar to reach a production of 109,894 tons of sugar as the end product.
Sugar production increase reflects a substantial improvement of TCH in the area. Today, sugar cane is grown in an area spanning approximately 16,000 hectares near the refinery. As sugar cane growers increase their crop production, both the refinery and workers benefit. “We want to improve the quality of life both for the sugar cane growers and the surrounding population,” Estrada points out.
IPBJ has an ideal geographical exportation location. The refinery is located just 100 kilometers from Mexico’s Coatzacoalcos port. From that port, sugar products are shipped to the United States. Due to its proximity to North American markets, IPBJ saves on shipping expenses, and thus has a competitive cost advantage over other refineries that play in the international market.
In addition to the nearby Coatzacoalcos port, the government of the state of Tabasco is putting in another port just 50 kilometers from the refinery. Called Puerto de Boca, it will be even closer.
By sending approximately half of its production to the United States, the company reaches large, stable markets, notes Estrada. Once the bags of sugar arrive, they are delivered to bakeries, cookie manufacturing outlets, chocolate factories, and other commercial facilities, where client use the product in their production processes.
Looking at the future, the company envisions continued growth. “We have a goal of reaching 1.65 million tons of processed sugar cane by 2015,” says Estrada. “We’re thinking of creating even more expansion.”
Driven by growth and development goals, IPBJ is installing new equipment. “Everything has a capacity to process 10,000 tons a day,” says Estrada. “By 2020, we want to reach a milling capacity of three million tons of ground sugar cane each season.”
While the company places a strong emphasis on exporting to international markets, it fully comprehends the value of Mexico’s own sugar market. “The national market is very important,” he says. “In light of the strong growth we have planned, we are going to expand further into the national market in the coming years.”
Everything done at the refinery is a group effort, notes Estrada. “It takes team effort: we have workers that are dedicated to the fields. Others take care of the administrative tasks. At the end of the line, commercial suppliers take our high quality product and use it in their processes.”