LAST Friday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry made a promising announcement in relation to the manufacturing sector.
It said the local chocolate bar Catch, made by Associated Brands Industries Ltd, will be sold in Cyprus from September.
Catch has long been a household name here and is already sold in many parts of the world. For instance, the bar is distributed in Ireland and Jamaica. You can also find it on supermarket shelves in parts of North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
But penetration into yet another market by a well-established Trinidadian brand at this sensitive time in our economic development is a crucial moment for the industry.
“Cyprus is an attractive market for us as we continue to penetrate in the European and Middle Eastern regions,” said Associated Brands Group CEO/deputy chairman Nicholas Lok Jack.
“As a manufacturer we believed that we could increase market share on an international scale, and through persistence and research we looked at different markets and we were able to meet with some potential distributors virtually to secure new business for the company.”
TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA) president Tricia Coosal welcomed the news, saying this was a new endeavour that could motivate local manufacturers who are looking for opportunities to branch out.
“We know it has been a difficult time,” Ms Coosal said, “but this new venture gives us hope and encouragement about the possibilities that lie ahead.”
Those possibilities are truly endless. Local manufacturing has often focused on local and regional markets. But it also stands to benefit from thinking even bigger by going further afield. Having established entities like Associated Brands doing so sets the tone for small and medium enterprises to follow.
However, as Ms Coosal suggests, there are many challenges standing in the way of such global ambitions, many of which the Ministry of Trade and Industry will be familiar with.
The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the State’s inability to support businesses and those they employ.
In addition to this, there are longstanding problems relating to the efficiency of state processes, the ease of doing business, fair trade and access to finances, skilled labour and expertise.
It is good to see Catch break new ground, but if other businesses and brands are to follow in its footsteps, there needs to be a cultural shift which re-orients entrepreneurs to thinking globally, as well as a more robust and fertile business environment at home, facilitated by the State.
It is also important to consider the potential role of members of the Caribbean diaspora living abroad.
These individuals represent a huge untapped market for many of our marquee TT products, not just our chocolates.
The thrill of seeing a familiar, uniquely Trinidadian product on the shelf of a foreign grocery store is not just something of sentimental value. It also points to the potential buying power of Caribbean people as a whole, whether at home or abroad. That's what we need to tap into more.