Tate & Lyle is well known around the world as a sugar refiner and manufacturer of sweeteners and other products. Tate & Lyle PLC is also one of the hundred largest companies in Britain. It dates from 1921, when the two biggest British refiners amalgamated, though their founders, Henry Tate and Abram Lyle, were by that time long dead. Indeed, they never met.
Henry Tate (1819–1899) began in sugar refining in 1859, originally in Liverpool. Abram Lyle (1820–1891) was from Greenock in Scotland, where he bought a refinery in 1865. Both companies also opened refineries in London. They refined imported raw cane sugar and, in later years, faced stiff competition from imports of beet sugar, many of which were subsidized, from Continental Europe, especially Germany. See sugar beet. When sugar prices collapsed in the early 1880s, the two companies responded by innovating and specializing. Lyle began to make Golden Syrup, using a secret formula, and this became the company’s most profitable product. See golden syrup. In 2006 it was recognized as the world’s oldest extant product brand. Tate invested in new production processes to improve efficiency, and he bought patents (from Germany in 1875 and Belgium in 1892) to make sugar cubes. Sugar had previously been sold in lumps or “loaves” which had to be broken, so small cubes were a major convenience. See sugar cube. While the two companies were competitors, they also made complementary products.