Maria Alvarez

As manager for Amalgamated Sugar’s largest warehouse in Nampa, Idaho, Maria Alvarez has a lot of responsibility. She runs a 24/7 operation, oversees a staff of 176 and is host and company ambassador to guests visiting the facility. But she takes it all in stride.

Maria began her career at the Nampa facility as an entry-level worker in 1999. After rising through the ranks, 2019 saw her moving into the role of warehouse manager and taking charge of 15 production lines that package 650 million pounds of sugar each year.

“I grew up surrounded by agriculture, so being an employee of a sugar processor feels natural to me. I love explaining how amazing sugar beets are,” she says.

The warehouse Maria manages is actually one end of a large sugar beet production facility. Most people never think about what’s involved in making sugar, taking it from beet to finished product. So, apart from ensuring that the floor is operating smoothly, Maria especially enjoys giving facility tours and hosting on-site events where she gets to tell sugar’s story. It’s a chance to show people all the steps involved in how sugar beets are processed to extract the sweet, pure sugar.

On her tours, Maria always points out that there is a lot of science and chemistry involved. “We can produce many different products from sugar beets: sugar, liquid sugar, invert, brown sugar, molasses, fertilizer, and betaine. It’s amazing how sugar is made. Really, you just have to see it – see the crystals forming.”

She says that seeing the process, when the sugar beet juice is concentrated to a thick liquid and begins to crystalize in large vacuum-sealed containers called pans, is when people really make the connection between what’s grown on the farm and the sugar they use every day.

From there, the liquid – used in other sugar co-products – is separated from the sugar crystals using a centrifuge. The sugar is then dried, cooled, weighed and stored. After the sugar is classified into various granulation sizes it’s ready for Maria’s team.

At any given moment, her warehouse is packing a wide range of sugar products, from 100-ton rail cars and 2,250-pound industrial bags called ‘super sacks’ to 1 -pound packages of powdered sugar. The pace can be fast and demand changes day by day. She even gets calls in the middle of the night to come in an get a line up and running for a new order.

For Maria, sugar is also a family business. Her husband has worked for Amalgamated Sugar for 30 years and her son, brother- and sister-in-law also work for the company. Even Maria’s father worked for Amalgamated, recently retiring after 20 years.

Maria agrees, there is much more to sugar!

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