Tate & Lyle has promised that its plan to move its entire retail cane sugars range to Fairtrade by 2009 will not hit shoppers in the pocket.

The move marks the largest-ever switch to the ethical labelling scheme by any major UK food or drink brand.

Sales and marketing director Steve Hermiston said the company would absorb any cost increases itself. "Our intention when switching to Fairtrade was to maintain fair prices for all. We do not intend to pass this on to consumers," he said.

The first product to be licensed to carry the Fairtrade mark will be Tate & Lyle granulated white cane sugar.

The company said it planned to highlight the switch with an advertising campaign in trade and national press, expected to run during key periods such as the summer holidays and Christmas to maximise


Tate & Lyle's conversion to Fairtrade had involved two years planning, with the company working in partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation to help sugar cane farmers in Northern Belize meet Fairtrade standards, said Hermiston. "These communities have been hit by higher input prices and changes in the EU market, not to mention challenges thrown up by natural disasters such as last year's Hurricane Dean," said Hermiston.

Hermiston denied Fairtrade represented little more than a "marketing device", a claim made this week made by think-tank the Adam Smith Institute. "This is not a move that is style and no substance," he said. "Issues such as Fairtrade are becoming more important to consumers and we want to reflect that."