Wisynco's Cuba push
Beverage company targeting 10 per cent of revenues from exports
Joseph Wellington

Beverage giant Wisynco Group Limited is looking to boost its exports to Cuba by up to five times, as it seeks to take advantage of the opportunities opening in that market from its Government encouraging private sector interests to distribute food, as its own ability to do so becomes increasingly challenged.

The push to export more to Cuba is part of plans by the Lakes Pen, St Catherine-based company to grow export revenues to 10 per cent of total sales. Export currently account for 3 per cent of total sales earning about $1.5 billion annually.

Manager for exports at Wisynco Stephen Dawkins, speaking to the Jamaica Observer following a Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Associations (JMEA)-led tour of the company's plant on Wednesday, said that with his planned visit to the Spanish-speaking country early next week, the company is hoping to undertake deeper penetration of the Cuban market which in recent times has been opening gradually to help citizens navigate a worsening food crisis. This, as a continuing 60-year trade embargo that was imposed on the country by the United States adversely impacts the country's ability to feed itself.

Over the last two years, the Cuban economy has also suffered repeated blows which saw tourism, one of its most important source of foreign exchange, reduced since the pandemic, inflation reaching record high levels, local food production falling, and more recently Russia's attack on Ukraine which has caused oil prices to soar and threatened greater shortages for the already vulnerable state.

From left: Andrew Mahfood, CEO of Wisynco and Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Senator Aubyn Hill listen as Chairman William Mahfood makes a presentation during a factory tour at the Lakes Pen, St Catherine-based beverage manufacturing and distribution facility on Wednesday.

"As a result of the food security crisis, they have given the private sector more leverage as the Government is no longer centrally buying food, they give it to the private sector as the logistics of getting it to the people quickly become increasingly necessary. As such I will be leaving for Cuba on Monday, as we try to see how best we can move in to supply some of the growing demand and explore new opportunities there," Dawkins told the Caribbean Business Report.

"We were already doing about 10 40-ft containers per month to Cuba, and we are looking to do even more…maybe like 50 containers per month," he further stated, noting an intended push of its Squeezz and Bigga soft drink products to the market which consisted of a population of near 12 million people.

Speaking on the plans for other parts of the region, Dawkins said the aim was to steadily accelerate the pace of growth in individual territories even as it continues to service markets right across Caricom.

"Within the larger Eastern Caribbean markets, such as Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname, is where we have captured some ground with one main distributor handling our core products in those three territories. Cayman and The Bahamas, which also fall in our top-10 export markets, likewise continue to be good for us," he said.

DAWKINS...export is a critical driver for the company as we look to move forward in our expansion plan

"Export is a critical driver for the company as we look to move forward in our expansion plan.

"As the company continues to grow and expand its capacity, it means that we are really pushing to not just serve Jamaica, but to serve markets across the world. Up to the end of our last financial year, we would have exported to 24 markets which includes Europe, North America, the Caribbean and parts of Latin America," Dawkins said also indicating that the the United Kingdom to which it makes the largest export now receives on average 50 containers per month.

Chairman of the Wisynco Group William Mahfood, commenting on the export push by the company, said he was very upbeat about the future prospects of the business which in recent times has undertaken significant capital expenditures to boost production and increase earnings.

On the heels of a record 2021 financial year, the company which manufactures and distributes popular beverages such as Wata, Cranwata, Boom and Bigga sodas, delivered increased profits of $1.3 billion and near $12 billion in revenues at the end its first quarter in September.

"My outlook is very positive and we will make some announcements in the next few months about our thrust towards export and the impact it will have for the company and the country. We are going to do more to develop the Jamaican-based products in all its categories on the international market," Mahfood said.

A Wisynco factory worker operates the water bottling line during a tour of the company's Lakes Pen plant in St Catherine on November 9. The tour staged by the JMEA featured a number of stakeholders and media representatives. Joseph Wellington

Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Aubyn Hill, who was also on the tour, implored Wisynco to seriously ramp up its business through exports, having already carved out its presence as a market leader in the manufacturing and distribution spaces. Hill, who has for the last few months been lamenting the country's trade deficit which was valued at US$2.9 billion up to the first six months of this year, again used the opportunity to champion the benefits of increasing exports and the need for it to rank high on the country's growth agenda.

BY KELLARAY MILES Business reporter milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

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