Washington — The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil antitrust lawsuit this week to stop United States Sugar Corp. from acquiring its rival, Imperial Sugar Co. The complaint alleges that the transaction would leave an overwhelming majority of refined sugar sales across the Southeast in the hands of only two producers. As a result, American businesses and consumers would pay more for refined sugar, a significant input for many foods and beverages, according to the DOJ.
According to the department’s complaint, U.S. Sugar operates a large sugar refinery in Florida, and sells all of its refined sugar through United Sugars Corp., a marketing cooperative owned by U.S. Sugar and three other refined sugar producers. Imperial Sugar operates its own sugar refinery in Georgia, and sells its refined sugar directly to customers. American Sugar Refining, known more commonly by its “Domino” brand name, is the other producer supplying a significant share of refined sugar in the southeastern U.S.
The complaint further alleges that United Sugars and Imperial Sugar compete head-to-head to supply refined sugar to customers across the Southeast in states stretching from Mississippi to Delaware. This competition has resulted in lower prices, better-quality products and more reliable service for customers across the region.
“U.S. Sugar and Imperial Sugar are already multibillion-dollar corporations and are seeking to further consolidate an already cozy sugar industry. Their merger would eliminate aggressive competition in the supply of refined sugar that leads to lower prices, better quality, and more reliable service,” adds Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “This deal substantially lessens competition at a time when global supply chain challenges already threaten steady access to important commodities and goods. The department’s lawsuit seeks to preserve the important competition between U.S. Sugar and Imperial Sugar and protect the resiliency of American domestic sugar supply.”
NCA, a lead partner in the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, shared a statement following the news: “For far too long, the sugar industry has abused its market power to the detriment of small businesses, manufacturers, and consumers, and this DOJ action is further proof that the U.S. Sugar program needs urgent reform. We support this action by DOJ, because, as the global supply chain crisis deepens and the cost of food and other consumer goods goes up, our elected leaders should focus on alleviating pressure on American small businesses and consumers, not making things worse.”
If U.S. Sugar is permitted to acquire Imperial Sugar, Imperial’s production would be folded into the United Sugars cooperative, leaving two significant sugar producers in the region. As alleged in the complaint, because transportation costs make up a significant portion of the total price customers pay for refined sugar, the nearest sugar producers tend to be a customer’s best competitive options. The complaint alleges that U.S. Sugar’s proposed acquisition of Imperial Sugar will further consolidate an already concentrated market for refined sugar. If the transaction is allowed to proceed, United Sugars and Domino would control the vast majority of refined sugar sales in the region, enhancing the likelihood going forward that they will coordinate with each other and refrain from competing aggressively.
U.S. Sugar, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Florida, is the world’s largest vertically-integrated cane sugar milling and refining operation. U.S. Sugar is one of four member-owners of United Sugars. In 2020, U.S. Sugar received payments of $533 million from United Sugars, representing the company’s share of United Sugars’s net sales.
United Sugars, a Minnesota corporation headquartered in Minnesota, markets and sells all of the refined sugar produced by its four member-owners — U.S. Sugar, American Crystal Sugar Company, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, and Wyoming Sugar Company. Its member-owners operate a total of nine sugar refineries located in Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. United Sugars’s revenues were $1.8 billion in 2020.
Imperial Sugar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Louis Dreyfus Company LLC, is a producer of refined sugar in the United States and independently markets and sells its products on its own behalf. Imperial Sugar has a refinery in Savannah, Georgia, and an intermediate sugar transfer and liquification facility in Ludlow, KY. Imperial Sugar’s revenues were more than $700 million in 2020.