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#1109 - Baltimore's Domino Sugar
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November 6, 2012 #1109 Baltimore's Domino Sugar
We've all seen it, particularly at night when we're down at the Inner Harbor: the world's biggest neon sign, spelling out the logo of Domino Sugars. Looking like a relic from the Industrial Revolution, the Domino's factory stands in stark contrast to the glitz and glitter of the city's maritime heart. Jerry and Al had a chance to pay a visit (it's not open to the public) and it was eye-opening.
The brand goes back to 1900, and the parent company, American Sugar, was one of the original Dow Jones Industrials companies. The Baltimore plant was built in the 1920's, and the sign was added in 1951. It's the size of a basketball court. Today the company is owned by a consortium of sugar cane growers. The Baltimore plant, one of six worldwide, is enormous. It turns out over 6 million pounds of sugar a day, both in crystalline form and liquid sugar. Put another way, the Baltimore refinery produces fully 14% of all the sugar consumed in the United States every year.
Domino has a full range of products not only under their brand name, but under the brands C&H, Florida Crystals, Redpath, and Tate & Lyle. The famous British syrup, Lyle's Golden Syrup, is licensed to Domino, and has the distinction of being one of the oldest, continuous package designs in the world. We tried the syrup and it was spectacular; just the thing for pancakes.
The crystalline sugars run the gamut - from white sugars designed for home and professional use; to powdery confectioner's sugar with light brown, dark brown and something called washed raw sugar; to alternatives like organic sugar, agave nectar and a light sugar-stevia blend.
The private tour we received was memorable. From across the harbor, Jerry can stand on the terraces of Waterfront Kitchen and watch the huge ocean going ships pull into the pier at Domino. We were able to stand near the ships as they off-loaded, with huge double jawed shovels lowering down into the hold, snapping up hundreds of pounds of sugar at a time. We saw conveyor belts carrying the raw sugar off towards and enormous storage hangar yards away. We walked into the hangar, our feet crunching on spilled sugar, and stood near a veritable cascade of raw product pouring in from the ceiling, creating veritable mountains of the stuff.
A bulldozer was plying to and fro, loading a deliberate blend of recently arrived sugars into an inside conveyor. Each incoming shipload is different, and is piled separately. Managers decide how much of each pile will go into a rough blend for that day's processing: one load from this pile, and two from the other, for instance.
The refining process takes place in closed vessels, so you cannot see that, but you do see the packaging taking place: 10 and 4 pound bags, the familiar individual packets, and the classic little cardboard Domino' Sugar box. A highlight was seeing forklift after forklift hefting huge 1 ton bags of finished sugar intended for bulk users. At the end of the tour, we had to shake the sugar dust off our clothes and dig it out of our ears and hair. It was unforgettable.
Contrary to rumors, Domino's says they plan to stay in their Baltimore location for another 90 years. That's good news for the 600 employees, and our local economy which appreciates the positive impact of this industrial giant.