It is rare to see an Eastern Caribbean country taking the risk of investing US$5 million on a plant in T&T. St Lucia’s Baron Foods Ltd will be bringing its unique flavour of different sauces, condiments and products to T&T. Ronald Ramjattan, Baron Foods’ chief executive officer, said the plant should begin production by the first quarter of 2013. Ramjattan first tried to lease a factory shell, but the loan was $20,000 a month. So they went with Plan B: invest more money where everything—construction, plant, equipment, label and bottles—would incorporate the US$5 million. Speaking at the agri-business opportunity session at the Caribbean Investment Forum on Monday at the Hilton, Ramjattan said the initiative to set up in T&T stemmed from the great reception he received at 2011 Trade and Investment Convention (TIC).
“I realise there was a need for Baron’s presence in T&T when participants at TIC went crazy after tasting my different products.” According to baronfoods.com, the company produces more than 150 products: pepper sauces, essences, sauces and seasonings. He wasted no time in securing an acre of land in Chaguanas for his factory. “I got the nod of approval from the Government in September after expressing interest in establishing my company in T&T. By December, I approached Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company (e-TecK) to lease the land.” However, he said even though T&T has money and labour, it suffers from high levels of bureaucracy. “It took me about five months to wade through several documents before they were approved, but that was not a deterrent.” He signed the lease with e-Teck on Tuesday. The next step, he said, is to submit his plans to Town and Country Planning Division. He’s been told the approval process takes four months. He gave kudos to T&T for its marketing initiatives as the Government continues to open up T&T to South and Central America.
Ramjattan said close to 100 Trinidadians would be employed at the factory. He said the products would include a range of sauces, condiments, spices and beverages. Ramjattan boasted of his unique-flavoured banana ketchup. “I will have about four hot sauces and we will be using T&T’s chadon beni for our seasoning mix. We would be reformulating to suit the taste of Trinidadians.” Adding to the list of his Caribbean product are mango chutney condiments and his recent innovation of 15 gourmet sauces, including Chinese and black bean sauce, sweet and sour sauce, sweet chili thai and a full range of Mexican salsa, all flavoured with local ingredients and spices, as well as coconut curry paste. He would be contracting farmers especially in the Chaguanas area to supply his factory with all the necessary raw materials.
“We are placed in the right agriculture belt where I would be contracting farmers to supply us with herbs, vegetables, hot peppers and fruits, among others. He said labour might be more costly, but it is not a deterrent because the cost of production would still be less than in other countries. “We just have to be more mechanised.” For the last 20 years, Baron Foods has contracted T&T’s Carib Glassworks and Label House Group Ltd to supply its bottles and labels its factories in St Lucia and Grenada. Ramjattan said he is looking at initial sales of US$5 million a month. He said his company’s presence in this market is not likely to be a threat to other agro-processors, but rather compete equitably with companies like National Canners Ltd.
Exporting from T&T
“We would be looking at T&T as an exporter as the Government continues to open its doors.” He said St Lucia and Grenada have markets in the English, French and Dutch Caribbean islands, North America and Europe. There would be no problem in positioning T&T to follow suit, but Ramjattan has his eyes set on South and Central America. “I know a lot of Trinidad companies that do not have the certification, so that give us the edge, especially in terms of exporting from T&T.” He explained certification includes a frequent third party auditing from international companies in the United Kingdom, United States or Canada. “We use SGS Canada Inc for our audit.” SGS provides inspection, testing, and certification and verification services to ensure products, services and systems meet quality, safety and performance standards.