Kaya pushes growth plans despite COVID-19

Kaya pushes growth plans despite COVID-19

Business reporter

Friday, November 13, 2020

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Cannabis company Kaya Group has indicated its intention to continue with plans to build out more operations locally and across the Caribbean, despite setbacks from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The entity, which was the first to venture into the retailing of medicinal marijuana locally, said that the goal was for the company to strengthen its position, seeking to execute its planned expansions into seven locations across the island. The business currently operates in Ocho Rios, Falmouth, and on Lady Musgrave Road in Kingston.

“Our next flagship location will be in Montego Bay by quarter one (Q1) of 2021, but depending on [the pandemic] and how the reopening goes we could see this done by this year, but we are definitely moving towards Montego Bay and Portmore next year. We also have our second location opening up in Uruguay in January next year,” Balram Vaswani, chief executive officer and group chairman of Kaya, said during a Mayberry Investors briefing on Wednesday.

Outside of its Jamaica and Uruguay operations, the company also exports marijuana through its Blue Water medical partner to the Cayman Islands.

Vaswani, in providing an update, said the market in the Cayman Islands was significantly hampered by the closure of the tourism industry in March due to the pandemic.

He said while there has been a slowing in the demand for cannabis oil there, he was hopeful for a positive recovery with the country's full reopening. “Until they have [reopened] their borders — we're not going to see the turnaround that we are expecting and want to see. Once they open up I think we're going to see dramatic increase in sales in Cayman,” he noted.

In terms of plans to export to other parts of the region, Vaswani said some positive changes to regulations in parts of the Caribbean were promising.

“A lot of countries in the Caribbean are following the rules and regulations that Jamaica passed — Barbados issued last month a draft regulation, St Vincent passed their regulations, we've seen St Lucia pass it and Bahamas is coming up. I think with the strength that Kaya has as a brand, we're going to see a regional outlay coming on stream between next year and the year after,” Vaswani said.

He said the company has identified seven countries in the Caribbean where the decriminalisation of marijuana, either for recreation or medicinal purposes, would result in Kaya making direct investments in the next two years.

“That means we would build it out ourselves. I'm not sure if we will be allowed to export from Jamaica, the flower and extract [however] if we can, we will be owning our locations and if not, we'll look for a strong local partner similar to us to operate in those countries,” he explained.

Highlighting the impacts of COVID-19 on the business, Vaswani said it has been difficult over the last few months but indicated adaptability, non-closures and quick responses, including cost and staff cuts, as some of the strategies engaged to cushion the fallout. He, however, cited the nightly curfew times imposed by the Government as being challenging.

“I think moving from just 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm would change things drastically, not just for Kaya but for other companies. If the curfew is moved to a realistic time, that alone will strengthen the business and when we move into Christmas [hopefully where they will disappear] then we'll be fine, but if not, I think the hours need to change so that businesses can operate to last,” he stated.

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