Chas E Ramson: A century of distribution success and family legacy
FOR over a century, Chas E Ramson has been a stalwart in the world of distribution, and its story is one of end0uring family legacy and an ever-evolving portfolio.
Founded 101 years ago, the company traces its roots to a partnership with the US-based food multinational Kellanova (formerly the Kellogg’s Company) which produces various breakfast cereals and convenience foods.
“In the 1960s, my grandfather began his relationship with Kellogg’s, particularly focusing on Foska Oats. This partnership eventually led to the creation of Caribbean Foods, which we established as the manufacturer,” director of sales & marketing of Chas E Ramson Limited, Kathryn Silvera, a member of the fourth generation running the business, shared with the Jamaica Observer as she reminisces about the company’s journey.
Chas E Ramson is a family business initiated by Silvera’s great-grandfather, Charles Ernest Ramson. The company’s inception was quite unconventional, stemming from a tragedy that compelled Ramson to return to Jamaica.
“It started as a buck-up, almost, because he migrated from Jamaica to New York with his family. Unfortunately, there was a tragedy, as one of his sons was killed in a car accident. So he decided New York was not for him and came back to Jamaica. Upon his return, he somehow secured the distribution rights for Kellogg’s, which laid the foundation for our company,” Silvera explained to the Business Observer.
The early days were humble, with a small office and no warehouse. Silvera describes the company’s early operations as having “a rented one-room downtown”. Back then, the process of determining what to add to its distribution lines was very different.
“It wasn’t as easy to find new products to source. Many decisions were based on what the company could partner with locally, both in terms of manufacturers and the Ramson’s brand, which was conceived in the early 1980s,” Silvera noted.
The company forged partnerships with local manufacturers to produce for the Ramson’s brand label, in addition to sourcing products overseas. The company started with corn oil through a partnership with a US company, making it one of the pioneers to introduce corn oil to Jamaica. During those times, products weren’t branded but rather focused on what the consumers needed.
“They were just products that you would bring in from wherever you could find them and then sell to the shops because there weren’t supermarkets until the 70s,” Silvera said.
As competition in the distribution industry intensified, Chas E Ramson recognised the importance of branding. The company began associating itself with other companies as partners to jointly market and distribute brands in Jamaica. While many competitors focused on their own brands, Chas E Ramson maintained its goals of equal distribution among all their brands. But its Foska Oats product quickly rose to fame.
“For over 50 years, we’ve been distributing Foska Oats, and it has been our number one product for over two decades,” Silvera proudly stated.
Foska Oats, a staple food for generations locally, has remained at the top of the Chas E Ramson’s distribution success, followed by Elle & Vire and Double Seven Energy Drink. In 2008, Chas E Ramson parted ways with Kellogg’s, a significant shift in its long history. However, it remained committed to seeking new partnerships and expanding its product offerings.
Expansion also goes for its physical warehouse. Unlike many other distributors and manufacturers today, Chas E Ramson was not challenged with finding adequate land to expand operations. Its foundation was set in the 1970s for its Kingston location, while its Montego Bay location was completed 20 years ago. It recently completed an expansion, doubling its Kingston warehouses and eliminating the need for rental space. The expansion includes 35,000 square feet of dry goods storage and 4,500 square feet of refrigerated and frozen goods storage.
For now, the company is satisfied with its space but sees other areas for improvement. It aims to integrate technology into its warehouse operations to provide online sales tools to customers, reducing the need for physical supermarket visits.
Its most recent additions to the distribution line include three new brands introduced in May of this year: Nix & Kix, a flavoured sparkling water; Colavita, offering Italian pastas and olive oils; and Sapolio, a cleaning product.
Silvera, who grew up around the business, initially explored hospitality for employment before ultimately joining the family company. She reflected on her journey, saying, “I haven’t looked back because I realised it’s something I truly enjoy.” From generations to generations, it prides itself on being a family-owned business, and listing on the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) is not in the pipeline anytime soon.
“We are still proud of the fact that we are completely family-owned in the fourth generation, as less than 4 per cent of family businesses make it to the fourth generation. We take pride in being solely family-owned,” Silvera emphasised.
This pride in the legacy of the company fuels the vision for a financially sound entity for the next generation. As Chas E Ramson continues to evolve, it stands as a testament to the power of legacy and adaptability in the world of distribution.