GraceKennedy — the business model Jamaica is looking for
A view of GraceKennedy's head office in downtown Kingston

Every time that we are tempted to doubt whether Jamaica will ever realise the dream called Vision 2030 — that is, to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business — we only have to look at the GraceKennedy Group.

If ever Jamaica is looking for a home-grown model other than the vastly successful Sandals Resorts, that has captured the imagination of the world, GraceKennedy is it, and it behoves us to look to the company for real examples for the future.

We are, of course, heartened by the disclosure by GK Group's Chief Executive Officer Senator Don Wehby that the food and financial services group has set a target to achieve 70 per cent of revenues beyond local borders by 2030.

We in this space get excited every time we hear anyone speak of growing exports, especially if the speaker has a strong history of action and not a bag of mouth — performance that consistently speaks for itself as GK and Mr Wehby have shown.

To achieve that vaunted goal, GraceKennedy will have to add more than 20 per cent to the 45 per cent of revenues and 47 per cent of profits it currently earns from markets overseas, as part of plans to grow exports to 50 per cent over the next three years.

While the phrase 'export or die' comes readily off the lips, we are aware that Jamaicans do not take the need to export as seriously as we should, hence our import spend continues to outpace export earnings four to one in 2020 figures.

Jamaica's exports of goods and services as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is 37.90 per cent, while imports of goods and services is 52.07 per cent, giving us a negative trade balance — a gap that is going to take yeoman effort to fill. And we know how painful it is to rely on debt to plug the holes.

It is in that context that we see Senator Wehby's announcement which came at Monday's investment briefing.

The point that should not be missed is that GraceKennedy was not merely saying that it wanted to replace reduced earnings from exports, but instead to grow export earnings by tapping into larger foreign markets.

Said Mr Wehby: "As we journey towards 2030, we want 70 per cent of our profits and revenues to be coming from outside of Jamaica. Our current revenues is US$813 million, but by 2030 we are going to be a US$2.1-billion company. Our current profit [before tax] now at US$68 million is to become US$250 million by 2030."

We have always been able to take GraceKennedy by its word, and we know the company by its fruits. For example, its products are in 500 Walmart stores, among the biggest chains in the US, with plans to ramp up its footprint in large retail chains in Canada, the USA, and the UK, targeting the Caribbean Diaspora and beyond in these lucrative markets.

This is not to say that everything about GraceKennedy is hunky-dory. The company experienced a fall-off in operating revenues from its money services segment — from $7.2 billion to $6.6 billion and profit from $3.1 billion to $2.4 billion in 2021, attributable to lower transaction volumes and reduced foreign exchange gains.

The point to note here is that, even while registering a reduction in profit, the company is making robust plans to grow. That is the model that Jamaican companies need to follow.

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