Caribbean food company Seprod, headquartered in Jamaica having exited sugar manufacturing and consolidated its dairy operations, is preparing to have a more regional presence in 2021.
In an exclusive interview with Our Today, CEO and Managing Director Richard Pandohie outlined what can be expected for the year ahead, mindful of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have on Seprod.
“This year, 2020 is a result of what we have been doing for the last few years. Our sugar business alone registered a J$400-million loss. We will have a good year but that is contingent on a number of things, particularly the COVID situation with community spread escalating and the health of our workers becoming very important.
“Looking to 2021, we are now using this opportunity to make our business a lot more agile and more export-focused. You can expect to see a greater concentration on productivity and innovation. We are anticipating a strong 2020 and growth on top of that for 2021. It’s the only way we can operate because when you are in the business that we are in, with investment in a lot of fixed assets and machinery, it’s really about utilisation and driving unit costs down. So far it looks good but we are mindful of the situation we are in but remain confident.”
“This is an opportunity for us to work together and bring wealth to the Caribbean and employ our people.”Pandohie
The Seprod boss views the CARICOM region as his company’s domestic market. He notes the commonality in the Caribbean and has never understood why so many tiny islands compete with each other.
“We should be looking at how we can utilise and help each other to grow. The region is such a big importer, one just has to take a look at food. This is an opportunity for us to work together and bring wealth to the Caribbean and employ our people. There should be free movement across the region and we should be able to use our advantages. There are opportunities here but because we are so adversarial we have not collaborated to maximise on them.”
Pandohie is a proud Caribbean man pointing out that COVID has shown that the region can no longer scurry everywhere looking for imports. It has to find a way to produce more and support itself far better than it has done for several decades now.
Trinidadian business titan Laurence Duprey has said for far too long the Caribbean has centred on a sugar industry when it should be concentrating on a cane industry. Pandohie says the region has focused on primary production, continually neglecting a value-added approach. The way he sees it, agriculture will have to be a big pillar of the economy moving forward. However a big deterrent here is the cost; the price of feed, the level of investment in technology, expensive energy.
Nevertheless, Seprod he says, will be expanding in this sector. It already has big plans for Seprod Farms and will also be looking to third party dairy farms.
“ For the country to grow, small family farms have to comeback. We want them to grow, to produce the milk and do the value-added. We want to form partnerships that see us help to provide feed for them, reduce their costs and take away their cash constraints so they can put it back into milk production.
“In this regard we are working with the Dairy Board and hopefully the Ministry of Agriculture will come on board with its new young and dynamic minister. We can’t celebrate just selling mangoes. We have to celebrate selling mango value-added. We have to sell mango puree to Whole Foods at US$10 a bag as opposed to losing the value of the entire mango. We have to change our mind-set and focus more on research and development as well as on the education of our people. As a country we have become spoilt and so lop-sided by being so service-oriented.
In 2015, when Pandohie joined the Seprod Group as CEO and managing director, the chairman, P.B. Scott, outlined his vision for the Group. He wanted modern manufacturing facilities, value-added acquisitions, a strong distribution pillar, a company that was delivering above average value for shareholders and for employees to become owners.
“I’m pleased to say, chairman, that your management team has delivered on the mandate,” said Pandohie.
With COVID infections and deaths mounting and the economy contracting what impact will this have on Seprod and how does he intend to respond?
“Despite COVID, the show must go on. None of us saw this coming and truthfully with so many unknowns it is difficult to say what our future will look like. We are committed to coming out of this pandemic more agile and resilient than before.”