GraceKennedy bullish on plans for 2023
GK group CEO Don Wehby (left), responds to questions at an investors' briefing held on Monday. Accompanying him is Andrew Messado, GK group chief financial officer

FOOD and financial services conglomerate GraceKennedy Limited said it is looking forward to an active year as the company moves to close on a number of deals and realise increased growth across its business in 2023.

"We are confident that the focused execution of our strategic initiatives will produce positive results and improved stockholder value in 2023," Group Chief Executive Officer Don Wehby told shareholders during an investor briefing this week.

The initiatives to which he refers include a number of plans spread across various portfolio areas of the business — most of which are now at advanced stages of the roll-out and negotiation phases and are timed for completion some time this year.

Through its very active mergers and acquisition (M&A) pipeline the conglomerate, having recently launched its mutual funds and partnered with Scotia Bank to underwrite policies for its ScotiaProtect digital insurance, is also now working to complete the second phase into its 100 per cent acquisition of Scotia Insurance Caribbean Limited (SICL) by this month. Through the new insurance outfit rebranded GK Life, the company has been afforded the opportunity to build out a presence in some 12 countries across the eastern Caribbean in two years with intentions to enter another market before year end.

Headquarters of GraceKennedy in downtown Kingston (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

"There is another island that we have applied to which is expected to be very attractive, based on our research. We are quite confident and will be announcing very shortly that we will also be in Saint Martin, therefore the 12 countries could actually become 13," Wehby said.

"This is another part of the GK strategy and of us executing sustainable growth and innovation — and I expect significant growths in profits coming out of this acquisition," he added.

The company, which continues to push for increased revenues and profits outside of local borders, said that the targets under its Vision 2030 plan are strategically aligned to position the company as a global consumer group delivering over US$2.1 billion in revenues and US$250 million in profits within the next seven years.

Through its food and manufacturing division, GK's continued push of products having mainstream appeal — including its tropical rhythms, Encona hot pepper sauces, jerk seasoning and patties, among others — should also drive sales under this portfolio, in keeping with the company's plan to further bolster its top-line growth. Group revenues up to December of last year were valued at approximately $143 billion.

Following its recent 70 per cent stake in bottled water company Catherine Peak, Wehby said his company is now focused on further building out that business with a number of plans, including the offering of other stock-keeping units (SKUs) of the product among those currently being put in place to grow the brand.

The completion of the NALCAN merger, which saw operations commence in January, is also set to help in driving increased production for the company. GK already has a target set to grow its current export to 50 per cent by 2025. This, Wehby said, is also greatly supported by the significant investments made in solar across a number of the GK stores and factory plants.

"If you are going to compete in Jamaica you have to invest in renewable energy. If you're going to compete in manufacturing and if you're going to export you… have to get that solar/renewable energy in place, and we have invested over US$3 million to do so," he said.

Aggressively building out its digital capabilities the group, through its GK One app, also intends to roll out the technology in Guyana and Trinidad this year. A partnership with Haven technologies, scheduled for a third-quarter launch, is further expected to provide a competitive edge that will enable GK, through its many operations, to digitally acquire customers; and manage, distribute and administer a unique life insurance experience across the region.

"We have invested a lot in digital, close to $1 billion, and when we look at the growth across our business, it is showing that we have made the right decision," Wehby said.

Providing an update on the company's plans for its recently announced share buy-back initiative, Wehby said that work has already started, with the necessary approvals now being awaited from the Trinidad and Tobago stock exchange.

"We are hoping that they will look at our application in a favourable way," he said, noting that being aware of JMMB's application still pending approval a year after application, he was hoping that a similar fate will not be the case for GK.

"I hope to God ours will not last for a year. I'm also making a call for there to be greater harmonisation of our rules and securities Acts if as a region we are to truly have an efficient capital market," he stated.

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