Tate & Lyle CEO Iain Ferguson insisted the manufacturer's plans to switch to Fairtrade sugar had not caused the business to take its eye off the ball, despite announcing an 11% fall in 2008 profits to £244m.

Ferguson blamed a "very disappointing performance" in international sugar trading for the slump in profits and warned that high corn prices in Europe would continue to hold back profits in the first half of 2009. Sales were up 6% to £3.42bn.

But plans to switch its entire retail cane sugars range to Fairtrade by 2009 were on target, Ferguson said, adding that it would begin supplying Fairtrade sugar to UK food manufacturers once production was sufficient.

"A number of our major customers already run Fairtrade lines, especially in confectionery. I think they will be very interested in what we're doing," he said.