Trinidad - After 50 years still Carib Country|
TRINIDAD and Tobago is clearly Carib country but if you travel to any of more than 30 other countries in the world you can call for a Carib without the bartender looking at you as if you're crazed.
The country's premium beer, Carib, is available throughout the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Asia. Almost one million bottles of the brew come off the lines at the Carib Brewery in Champs Fleurs everyday.
In 1949, Sir Gerald Wight, a Royal Air Force veteran from World War I founded the Caribbean Development Company Limited, which included a brewery and glass/bottle works. These two companies became separate entities, and on May 16, 1950, the first Carib lager beer was brewed.
Today, the top man at Carib is Horace Bhopalsingh, Chief Executive Officer at the brewery. Like Sir Gerald, he is also a veteran, not of a war but of the brewing industry.
Bhopalsingh, 55, has had 25 years of international experience which he brings to the company.
Though born in Freeport, St Mary's, Bhopalsingh spent most of his childhood in St Augustine. He attended Queen's Royal College where he studied languages before going off to business schools in Switzerland, France and England.
On his return to Trinidad he worked at WASA before joining Carib, first as chief accountant. He did not stay on very long. He left there to take up a position with Renault.
"I went to Renault," he said, "but then they posted me to Venezuela, and I didn't like that. I came back and went to the National Brewing Company." They were then the brewers of Stag.
From there he was sent to Holland, where the ownership of Stag was based. After a stint there, Bhopalsingh returned to the Caribbean and went to run the Brewery in St Lucia before coming back to run the brewery here. "After that I went to Canada and the US. I worked in Connecticut for 15 years," he added.
Bhopalsingh has five children, three daughters from his previous marriage and two sons by his present wife. He has held the position of CEO at Carib since 1998.
The brewery will celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 16 and as part of the celebrations the company will place a special 15 cent coupon in the Trinidad Guardian. This is a bonus for the country's beer drinkers. They will be able to redeem the coupon for a Carib. The reasoning behind this promotion is that when Carib first came on the local market that was how much it cost.
In addition, Carib employees will receive T-shirts and there will be special advertisements in the media.
Carib executives believe the company has achieved some major successes on the road to its jubilee celebrations.
The brewery started with a payroll of seven employees. Today, Carib employs about 700 workers; about 500 directly and another 200 as contracted labour.
In 1957, Carib acquired the assets of the Trinidad Brewing Company, making it the sole brewer and bottler of beer and stout in the country.
The company has established partnerships with international companies such as Heineken, Guinness, Mackeson, Corsaire and Ginseng Up. It continues to produce a range of beverages which include Carib, Stag, Shandy, Malta, Smalta and Royal Extra Stout.
Since his return to Carib, Bhopalsingh says his biggest challenge has been "trying to change the corporate culture."
He said the company has gone through "some team-building exercises, working on finding a commonality, a set of core values that we can all relate to.
"We are the largest brewery in the English-speaking Caribbean. We have the capacity for producing about 12 million cases annually," said Bhopalsingh.
Though this is Carib country, the beer does have competition on the local market.
Bhopalsingh explained, "The World Trade Organisation has this move toward free trade. The trade barriers are gradually coming down and duties on imported products have been reduced in the last three years, making imported beer more competitive."
"But the imports are not competing with us on a level playing field. Beer from North America and Europe can come into Trinidad and Tobago without certain restrictions that we have in their markets," he said. "For example, beer coming from North America and Europe can come in any bottle they want, in any label and without a deposit or an environmental charge.
If Carib Brewery has to enter North America or Europe, however, "we've got to go in a specific bottle size. We've got to go with a special label, and we also have to go with either a deposit or an environmental charge."
Carib is not standing passively by and allowing the competition to snatch its market share. Bhopalsingh said, "As a member of the Caribbean Breweries Association with Caricom, we have approached the Secretariat with a view to bringing about changes within Caricom.
"At the national level we have been talking to the Trade Minister," he continued. "Two things have got to happen, either these national barriers have got to be removed, or we have got to find ways of ensuring that the imports currently do not have the favourable avenues of competition that they have.
"Though we dominate the local market this international competition is coming right on our doorstep," said Bhopalsingh. "If we were to lose market share here, there is a cost to it. The question is whether we can have access to these markets on a fair trading basis so that we can take the market share in these countries to compensate for any losses that we are suffering here."
He said on the home front Carib has been working "to make Carib more efficiently and to lower production costs."
"We have restructured the company and, as a result, there has been some significant changes. For example, we have been investing in marketing in the wider Caribbean," said Bhopalsingh.
Some of these include changes to management team. Bhopalsingh believes that every success that has been achieved by the company in recent years came from a team effort.
Some of the key members of that team are Export Manager, Albert Chow; Production Director, Virginia Clarke, and Public Relations Manager, Colin Murray, who were all present during the Business Guardian interview.
· It is the largest non-energy manufacturer in the country
· It brews two million cases of Carib annually
· It takes 22 days to brew a Carib
· The company sits on a 48-acre site
· Carib is the country's largest corporate sponsor in the country having spent millions to sponsor music, culture and sports.These include Carib Tokyo, the Shiv Shakti Dance Company, the National Cricket League, horse racing, hockey, the national football team when they made it to the 1989 World Cup finals and calypso competitions.
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