PriceSmart's US$3.7m plant a bold move into sustainable products

PriceSmart health safety, environment and quality lead Shelly-Ann Alexis-Anderson shows Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley the domes for cake trays during the opening of the company's sustainable solution plants at Point Lisas Business Park, Couva.  - AYANNA KINSALE
PriceSmart health safety, environment and quality lead Shelly-Ann Alexis-Anderson shows Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley the domes for cake trays during the opening of the company's sustainable solution plants at Point Lisas Business Park, Couva. - AYANNA KINSALE

PriceSmart's US$3.7 million sustainable solutions plant in TT, represents a bold move by the company to include the manufacture and distribution of environmentally-friendly products throughout its existing distribution network.

This is how Brud Drachman, PriceSmart's executive vice-president (environmental responsibility, construction and facilities) sees the new plant at the Point Lisas Business Park in Couva.

During its launch on Tuesday, Drachman said, "PriceSmart has a commitment to doing better for our world. We have a commitment to our members. we have a commitment to our employees and to the community at large."

While traditionally being a business that distributes imported products through its operations in different parts of the world, through the establishment of this plant, PriceSmart is adding a different element to its operations.

"We have never done manufacturing before. This is the very first (plant)."

He described the US$3.7 million plant as "a manufacturing facility that utilises bio-resin, certifies OK Home Compostable, that we we convert through a process of extrusion and thermal forming into products that can be sold at PriceSmart and used in the packaging of food.

One of the main items to be sold out of the plant into PriceSmart and other users, Drachman continued, are meat trays.

"Traditionally those are made from styrofoam. Styrofoam as we all know is one of the biggest contaminants in the environment today."

Drachman said, "Our product is compostable. What I mean by that is, you put it in your yard and in 200 days or less it will compost to its original organic form."

The plant also used recycled PET.

This is a recycled plastic used in various applications from reusable carry bags to roof insulation.

Drachman said, "Ours is one generation. That is one cycle of recycling. That is used for the transparent products that we use like the top (covers) of cakes."

He showed a pair of cakes (one with a TT flag design on top, the other with a US flag on top) that were encased in recycled PET.

Products from the plant will be used in PriceSmart's five clubs in TT in the first instance.

"We're going to do it initially to service PriceSmart's own needs."

PriceSmart has 50 locations, four in TT and 46 overseas.

As an example, Drachman said products in the bakeries in TT's clubs will be placed in these environmentally friendly plastics as opposed to ordinary non biodegradable plastics.

"We are talking about exporting from Trinidad, all the products I talked about."

Once all of the processes at the plant and its products are perfected, Drachman said, "We are going to look for third parties and we are having a lot of interest already to produce for exports, things like meat trays."

He said it took ten months to get the 30,000 sq foot plant operational. Approximately 50 workers constructed the plant which currently employs 15 workers.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley shows his PriceSmart card number 002 as the second person to join the members club. - AYANNA KINSALE

Drachman added that an additional five workers would be added to the plant's staff in the short term. When the plant is running at full capacity, he estimated its staff complement will be 30 workers

Addressing the opening of the plant, the Prime Minister, Dr Rowley, said, "This is a period of serious increased investment in TT."

Describing PriceSmart's decision to open this plant as brilliant, Rowley surprised the audience by reaching into his wallet and displaying his "0002" PriceSmart member's card, identifying him as the second person to join PriceSmart when it began operations in TT 25 years ago.

He recalled visiting relatives in California in previous years and being impressed with businesses such as Price Club and Costco, which distribute a wide variety of products to consumers.

Against this background, Rowley welcomed the service which PriceSmart has provided to TT over the last 25 years.

He was impressed that PriceSmart has taken a bold initiative to enter into manufacturing, in a way which can create jobs, help diversify the economy and help preserve the environment.

Rowley believed the plant could create more opportunities for products made in TT to find markets overseas in the various jurisdictions where PriceSmart operates.

He also saw possibilities for other Caricom countries sending biodegradable materials to PriceSmart's plant in TT, turned into packaging products and exported overseas.

After acknowledging the presence of Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein in the audience, Rowley suggested that the ministry could explore potential partnerships with PriceSmart to package fresh local produce and export them to PriceSmart's stores overseas.

Reminding his audience that land in Chaguaramas and Tobago are being developed to encourage young farmers to grow high-value, short term crops in the Shade House project (a collaboration between the Youth Development Ministry and the Guyana Government), Rowley (who is a registered farmer) hinted at these crops being sent to PriceSmart's plant for packaging and export.

He also hinted at the possibility of locally grown berries at the Berrycove farm in Tobago being packaged at the plant and exported.

Rowley encouraged PriceSmart to also consider the possibility of selling locally made furniture through its network of stores.

With all these various possibilities, Rowley rejected the view there is no investment taking place in TT

Trade and Industry Minister Gopee-Scoon, who was also at the launch, said, "To date, almost 270 locally-manufactured items have a market through PriceSmart’s clubs, demonstrating PriceSmart’s invaluable contribution as a local and regional distributor.

At the regional level, she continued, "PriceSmart Trinidad exported over TT$108 million for the five-year period 2018 to 2022. We expect this figure to grow."

Between 2018 and 2022, Gopee-Scoon said, "Close examination of import data from TTBizLink for the same five-year period revealed, approximately $41 million worth of imports in one tariff line of food packaging and containers."

Of this figure, she continued, some $20 million represented imports of styrofoam trays for meat packing.

Gopee-Scoon expected the plant will play an important role in reducing the number of these imports

With many locally produced items already available to PriceSmart consumers in Aruba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Saint Maarten and the US Virgin Islands and countries across Latin America through its distribution network, Gopee-Scoon was confident that products made at the plant will be able to access these markets as well.

In acknowledging that the plant will create more jobs, Gopee-Scoon said, "I am heartened by PriceSmart’s ongoing commitment to TT.

Over the last 25 years, PriceSmart has employed over 900 people at its four clubs in TT.

Gopee-Scoon reminded the audience that on January 27, the Central Statistical Office reported that for the first half of 2022, real GDP in TT grew by 4.1 per cent.

"What is even more encouraging is that this was due in large part to our non-energy sector, which according to the CSO, yielded strong growth of 7.5 per cent in the first half of 2022

She said Government continues to pursue initiatives to encourage investment in TT.

"Among these developments are, a new Special Economic Zones (SEZ) regime and Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (TIPA), both of which are expected to be operationalised in fiscal 2023. "

Gopee-Scoon believed the plant will help "to redefine the role of the private sector in TT as both a driver and a partner in sustainable development, in keeping with global trends and priorities."


"PriceSmart’s US$3.7m plant a bold move into sustainable products"

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