“I am not leaving here until I get that ‘Dam’ hot pepper sauce!” This was the voice of a patron who was comfortably seated at Viking Traders Ltd’s booth at the Trade and Investment Convention (TIC) last week Thursday. TIC, which was held from May 16 to 19 at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, Port-of-Spain, attracted local, regional and international companies representing a wide range of sectors, products and services. Kristal Philip, the patron was attested to Viking’s great taste of Dam hot pepper sauce—the real name of the product—said she tasted it and she was not leaving until she got a bottle to buy. Nicholas Zephirin, managing director of the St Lucia-based Viking Traders, said the company has been in operation for more than 33 years offers more than 100 products and seasonings: condiments, spices, coconut cream and one of its flagship products, banana ketchup. Its latest creation is banana barbeque sauce. The name was chosen as Viking connotes strength, invention and innovation. Zephirin, who exhibited at TIC for the first time, said he landed a contract with a Port-of-Spain-based wholesaler to sell Viking’s products here. “We have already secured an agent. Within the next month, we are hoping to export our products to T&T due to the fantastic reception at TIC.” Zephirin said Viking would initially export one container a month to T&T. He said the main items likely to be marketed at hotels, supermarkets and caterers are El Coco coconut cream, banana ketchup and barbeque sauces, garlic sauce, Green Gold mountain coffee, rum cake and the Dam hot pepper sauce. The food processor is looking forward to creating a new concoction: mango pepper sauce. This pepper sauce is hot in many ways. In 1997, it copped the first place out of 275 pepper sauces judged at the Fiery Food Challenge in Mexico.
A united Caricom
Asked how confident he is about Viking’s ability to compete in the T&T market and with Baron Foods Ltd—which would be establishing a US$5 million factory in T&T, offering similar products to Viking’s, like the banana ketchup. “We are coming on board very strong with original products, but as a part of the Caricom’s initiative, it’s no longer one country leading it all, Zephirin said. He said T&T offers tremendous advantages like infrastructure, electricity and has an excellent manufacturing environment. “Once our production capabilities expand, there is a possibility of manufacturing in other countries, but we are working on srengthening our products and networking with the islands.” Zephirin explained that after the World War II, the Philippines experienced difficulty in bringing tomato ketchup and invented banana ketchup. Vikings developed it in 1985 to their unique flavour, he said. “Since then we’ve copied.” He also boasted of his rich texture and smoothness of his coconut cream that is manufactured through a fresh, natural process.
Zephirin said Viking receives all of its raw materials and produce from contracted St Lucian farmers, but not without challenges.
In the last two months, the processing company’s supply of coconuts has been inconsistent, forcing Viking to spend more money to import them from Guyana. He said he recently found out, much to his surprise, that Guyana exports 91 million coconuts annually.
“Here it is we are in Caricom and that informaion is not spreading through the islands,” Zephirin said. “But the interesting thing is that the word spread in St Lucia that we were importing coconuts and all of a sudden, we saw truckloads of coconuts coming to our factory.”
He said 15 farmers supply Viking with coconuts. Other farmers plant 30 acres with West Indian red and Scotch Bonnet hot peppers.
Zephirin explained that St Lucia’s supply chain has not been strong enough and is seeking assistance from T&T to train their farmers about efficient supply, increasing production, farming technology. “It important that this is addressed because going into international markets, we have to ensure we could fullfil our demands.” Viking’s major export market is Canada, followed by Europe, where products can be ordered online. Its other export markets are Germany, the Czech Republic, US Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. He said Viking had an order to export three 40-foot containers of coconut cream and the Dam hot pepper sauce to the United Kingdom in the next six months. “There is a growing demand for ethnic food in those countries and we are happy to be a part of TIC to learn more about the markets,” Zephirin said. “There is a wide diaspora that wants to remember home.”