Ronald Ramjattan has what he calls a knack for figuring out flavour.
“I’m a chemist by profession and I realised over the years, when I went to a restaurant, I would come back home and experiment with the different sauces and my creations would be near identical,” The 64-year-old founder of St Lucian agro processing giant, Baron Foods, Ltd, told Business Day last Saturday.
Even though he’s busy as the company’s chief executive officer, Ramjattan is proud to state that each of the 165 sauces and flavourings that Baron produces has his influence in their profile.
It’s his unique combination of entrepreneurial spirit and scientific curiosity as well as that knack for flavour, that created Baron’s most famous product — banana ketchup.
“Banana ketchup happened very simply. Years ago, the Eastern Caribbean used to export bananas to the UK and when the UK joined the EU, they stopped buying St Lucian bananas. Then I said, wait. We are getting about a million tourists annually coming into St Lucia. Why not take the bananas and target the tourist industry? When they see it, they’re intrigued. They Try it. They like it. And they take it back home with them as a souvenir. Imagine one million tourists buying one bottle of banana ketchup for $2 each. That’s $2 million. That’s my inspiration,” Ramjattan said.
And it’s not just tourists who like it. In 2015, Baron’s Banana Ketchup won a gold medal Superior Taste Award from the International Taste and Quality Institute in Belgium. The year before, the company’s West Indian Hot Sauce won the same, and in 2017, so did its Sweet Chile Thai Sauce.
“It’s an extraordinary achievement,” Ramjattan said, and the increase in orders from Europe and North America since the awards isn’t so bad either.
Even though he’s now started training young chemists in the art of flavour at Baron’s labs, Ramjattan is always looking out for the latest culinary trend.
“I decide on the next new sauce by looking at the restaurants that are opening. Curry is always popular, so is Thai and Chinese. Salsa is getting big now, so we’ve just introduced a new salsa. I want to make you not go to restaurants when you can create these flavours at home,” he said.
But despite his international accolades, Ramjattan is well aware that Trinidad tastebuds are discerning. But, he said, since participating in the Trade and Investment Convention, hosted annually by the TT Manufacturers’ Association, for the last five years, he has an idea about what Trini tastes are and has fixed his flavours to suit.
“I have to include chandon beni and I’m launching a brand new masala pepper sauce just for Trinidad,” he said, adding that banana ketchup performed well at TIC as well, so he’s expecting that to continue.
Trinidad isn’t just a consumer market for Baron, though — Ramjattan chose the island specifically because of its established, and growing, trade relationships with Latin America — a market he is eager to break into.
“The profile Trinidad has with South America, St Lucia doesn’t have. I will be capitalising on those trade relationships,” he said.
To that end, he’s already been invited to attend future trade missions by Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon.
“Baron’s entry here means that it already has a product range that has been mastered and will be stacked up against the competition. It’s healthy competition and also good for the farmers and other suppliers, as well as provides employment and encourages foreign direct investment in Trinidad,” Gopee-Scoon, who had attended the Baron launch, said.
Baron, even though it was a new entrant, ties in to the goal the Ministry has for improving manufacturing output and export, as well as diversifying the economy, especially for agro-processing among small and medium-sized firms.
“TT’s manufacturing sector is mature but aggressive. We want them to achieve more exports, but we know the targets are hard,” she said.
The country was continually looking to attract new investment, she said, like Baron.
“It’s bleak out there. Every country is chasing the same FDI and it’s a lot lower than before in this global economic crisis,” she said.
Ramjattan already has market domination in the Eastern Caribbean, a strong presence in Guyana (his birthplace), holds his own against other Caribbean brands in North America and Europe, and recently entered Cuba.
“I’m not afraid of competition. I think they are scared of me,” he said.
Ramjattan added that he’s been doing business with Trinidad firms for years — glass for his bottles comes from Carib Glass, Ltd and his labels are printed by Label House, Ltd. Even the company’s logo was designed by a Trinidadian artist.
“Trinidad is a must in trading but what has happened is that it’s been a one-way trade. I will represent the first Eastern Caribbean country to have a footprint here,” he said.