A new candy made from organic products has been introduced to the local market by Associated Brands Industries Ltd (ABIL), resulting in the creation of several manufacturing jobs.
ABIL recently acquired US company OCHO (Organic Chocolate) Candy and decommissioned its entire factory and moved it from Oakland, California to Trinidad and Tobago.
The acquisition was completed in 2020. In an interview with Business Day, ABIL CEO and Vice President Nicholas Lok-Jack said the decision was a result of the need to tap into a new segment of the market with a both tasty and affordable.
“It’s a company that we bought and took a majority stake in…the product has been available in the United States for a few years in the health food segment.
“The process started in 2019. The opportunity arose to take an equity stake…when we looked at the business, we decided to take a majority stake and bring in a lot more of our manufacturing at the company.”
So he said, “We moved the line to TT.”
The new line and plant at Bhagoutie Trace, San Juan, Lok-Jack said, created jobs and, though small, had a significant impact on the people they served.
“We have already increased our workforce to around 50 people just for this line. We engaged with local refrigeration and structural engineering companies during the installation of the lines, so we had a decent impact in a small way, as best we could.
“What I’m really proud of is the training given to the people we recruited and how they operated the line and how they operated in an organic environment with the highest food safety standards. “
The company, he said, was also in talks with local cocoa farms to boost its organic range and was ready to support local production.
“We know there are a few cocoa farms trying to achieve organic certification at the moment, so we are still in discussion about what we can do locally and how we can help support.
“What really drove us to seek out this company and this brand is that the products taste fantastic…We believe that everything should be underlined by this in any food product. We always pay attention to taste and desirability, etc.
The OCHO Candy website said it realized it was getting too big for its Oakland production facility and needed to move. He pointed out that TT was the best fit for its unique candy line and would be best able to provide the necessary ingredients and financial investment.
The company said: “We scoured the United States to find a suitable partner to move our very unique candy manufacturing line and found that if we moved closer to the equator we would have a better supply of ingredients and benefit financially to them. in the native lands where the ingredients were grown or where the sweets are made.
“So in 2021 we’ve taken the big step of moving all of our candy manufacturing to TT’s chocolate home country.”
Lok-Jack did not disclose the company’s cost at a time when shipping, freight and overall logistics prices have increased due to the covid19 pandemic.
“I prefer not to talk about the cost, but the cost factor was certainly much higher than expected. The whole supply chain logistics of trying to move the line was much more expensive and time consuming.
“Our input and learning about organic production also had to be included in that.”
Lok-Jack explained that in 2020 it was difficult to move the line as it required downgrading and crating equipment and, due to traffic congestion at the Port of Los Angeles, alternative arrangements had to be made via Houston, in Texas.
“We had to ship to Houston, then ship to TT, then return to service at TT, with our borders closed, and no engineers allowed to come and help us.
“So we had to get it all back up and running with our current plant management and engineering teams, obviously with help on Zoom and phone, but it was pretty intensive,” he said. declared.
The product was officially launched last week and the company has been campaigning extensively to get the product to suppliers and customers.
Not only is the product sold in TT, but it is also re-shipped to the US market and Lok-Jack said the intention is to tap into other regional markets as well as Latin America.
“We bought the company, brought the machines to Trinidad, produced the candies and shipped them back to the United States to satisfy the American market.
“We intend to take the brand as globally as possible. Obviously, the return to the US market will be an important segment of this. We are targeting Latin America as well as the Caribbean.
Lok-Jack explained that OCHO Candy was Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA, which was important to parent company Charles Chocolate because it complied with international standards and best practices.
The fair trade certification body, he explained, “ensures that everything is produced in a humane way, which means that there is no child labor, no forced or slave labor – because these things still exist in the world today, unfortunately, in some segments.
“It’s important to us, because there are people who go through the books, go through the fields and make sure things are well respected. So it’s a third-party stamp of approval, and it changes as different topics become important, it gets revised, and it’s not static and always changes to improve.
In addition, Lok-Jack pointed out that the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) was kept informed of the acquisition. Although he did not disclose the ministry’s actual contribution, he said it was very supportive.
“MTI was not involved in the acquisition, but obviously in a transaction like this there are non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements that we must adhere to. However, as soon as these were published, I informed the Minister of Commerce of our situation, where we were, what we were doing, what we were planning.
“They were really supportive and happy to see that we brought the manufacturing plant to Trinidad and played our part in exports and employment.”
He added, however, that various government agencies and ministries need to revamp the way they do business to make it easier and more attractive to local businesses and potential investors.
“The ease of doing business could be better. Covid19 as a whole has really extended a lot of different things that have happened, like container clearance, which is now done by appointment.
“Especially with today’s supply chain, the urgency to clear containers is not what it used to be. The thing is, it’s affected every country, and what I’m hoping is that our government departments and agencies can really start using technology and using things to clear backlogs and really get up to speed with a different way of operating that is fluid and efficient and fluid. »
He believed the organic market segment had potential for growth and being certified organic and certified fair trade gave OCHO Candy a fighting chance.
“You don’t know what a market is until it’s open at an accessible and reasonable price. There are other organic products on the market that cost up to $100 that are out of reach I suppose, and we feel that we need to meet all of our consumers, regardless of segment identification.
“Previous target markets were defined by age, economic status, etc., but now there are people who are vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and people who have needs based on their contribution to the environment.
“So the way you segment your markets today is different from the way you segmented your market ten years ago. And even if the market is not huge, there will be a segment of the market that will like to buy organic products, and there is no reason for them to be excluded from this market.
Lok-Jack said TT has the potential to become the “big fish” in certain market segments because it has the skills in many areas, especially music, sports and manufacturing.
“We can be world class. We can play in all the market of the world. We have 48 years of experience making great products; we believe that our employees are quite capable of making world-class products, and we try to have the access to go out there and fly the TT flag as proudly as possible, as widely as possible. We have to mentally realize that we can be the big fish in some markets.
And as shipping and freight costs continued to be affected by the fallout from the covid19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Lok-Jack said the company was able to keep price increases as best it could. that she could.
He said covid19 protocols hampered going out, especially during curfew.
“The cost of shipping has quadrupled and quintupled, depending on where you are. I know there are certain categories of products where the cost of freight has become higher than the cost of the product in the container.
“Let’s hope these things don’t stay the way they are. We absorbed a significant amount of price increases along the way. Some things can’t fully recover, but we need to be able to make sure we’re making the right long-term decision. Price increases are not something we take very lightly; we really try to consider all aspects before we jump in.
As for the future of Charles Chocolate, he said the company was exploring opportunities and being highly innovative, while trying to stay ahead of the game, providing consumers with options at accessible prices and keeping markets where they belong invigorated and fun.