Mon | Nov 18, 2019

Big players enter retail sugar market

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Seprod's Golden Griove Pure Jamaican Cane Sugar is expected to hit the market in two weeks.
Grace Granulated Sugar entered the market November 2015.

Food conglomerate GraceKennedy has entered the retail sugar market, while Seprod is two weeks away from introducing its product - the latest developments in the rapid evolution of how the sweetener is traded within the span of just one year.

Around this time in 2015, the only known branded sugar product was Jamaica Gold, which is sold by Jamaica Cane Product Sales (JCPS). Now, there at least seven more players with their own brands, based on a Sunday Business review of refined or granulated and brown sugar products.

Checks also revealed at least two speciality sugars, a coconut-based powdered sweetener seen on retail shelves, and a cane-based imported product specially marketed to the health conscious.

The review of market entrants was by no means exhaustive, but it includes large corporations like Seprod and GraceKennedy, as well as little-known outfits Palm Rose Commodity, DK Processors Jamaica, Sue Pat Sales, HarveDan Marketing Limited and Green Hills Distributors.

Seprod will introduce, by this week, a 50-kilogramme bulk package of brown sugar the size in which sugar is typically distributed for repackaging by grocery stores. The company will next roll out its own retail packs of 'Golden Grove Pure Jamaican Cane Sugar' in sizes of 1kg, 2kg and 500 grams "in another two weeks", says Seprod Managing Director Richard Pandohie.

Seprod, as owners of Golden Grove Sugar Factory, last September, trumpeted a $120 million investment in the plant and packing equipment to make ready the St Thomas-based factory ahead of the launch of its packaged products this month.

Seprod manufactures sugar at Golden Grove in St Thomas, but has been losing money on the business. Its foray into retail and the marketing of its own sugar output is meant to roll back some of those losses.

Golden Grove's packaged sugar, a sample of which was shared with Sunday Business, is the best quality brown sugar coming out of local processing plants observed so far.

Indeed, retail sugar is largely unpoliced, but as the market takes off, state regulators have announced plans to develop standards for the products.

Typically, a 500 gram sugar packet, which is just over one pound, sells for around $80 to $85, while refined sugar of a similar size sells for around twice that amount.

GraceKennedy is not new to the sugar market and has distributed the commodity in sachets for years, but those sales were mostly directed at hospitality businesses. Now, the conglomerate has entered the consumer market with a refined sugar product under the Grace brand that so far has been seen on Hi-Lo supermarket shelves. It was introduced last November.

Chief Executive Officer of GraceKennedy Foods Jamaica Andrea Coy says the company aims to triple its sugar revenue by 2017, but was silent on the size of current sales.

All refined sugar sold in Jamaica is imported, but data on the size of that segment of the retail market was unavailable up to press time.

Coy, without naming the factory, says the Grace Granulated Sugar is packaged in Jamaica "at an approved plant and is distributed along with other Grace food products islandwide".

The Grace product also comes in 500 grammes, 1kg and 2kg packs. DK Processors Jamaica also sells refined sugar and icing sugar under the brand Diamond Krystal, Sue Pat distributes refined and icing sugar under the Paradise brand, HarveDan sells an icing sugar called Bakers Marc, while Green Hills Distributors sells an imported evaporated cane-juice product, which is marketed as a health-food product and is currently sold in Kingston and Ocho Rios.

Palm Rose currently trades brown sugar under the name Royal Rose, but plans to extend the line to include refined sugar "by the end of the year", said company representative Shade Bulli. Royal Rose made its market debut last October, she said.

Palm Rose began packaging Royal Rose at its plant in Newport West, Kingston, after investing in its own packaging machine, said Bulli. Its input sugar is supplied by JCPS.

Indeed, JCPS, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, and now, Golden Grove are the only three sugar businesses licensed to market the cane-based sugar produced in factories across Jamaica.

Last year, JCPS and Pan Caribbean together distributed 49,000 tonnes of brown sugar, which was 4,000 tonnes less than the volume supplies in 2014, says JCPS General Manager Karl James.

JCPS sold 6,000 tonnes of sugar under its Jamaica Gold brand over the last three years, or approximately 2,000 tonnes annually, the sugar marketer said.

James' consumer operation distributes both brown and imported refined sugar products, both of which are packaged on JCPS' behalf by Caribbean Depot Limited under contract.

JCPS was initially Caribbean Depot's only client, but now the plant also co-packs for another sugar trader, which company head Michael Jureidini declined to name.

Jureidini reaffirmed that Caribbean Depot will this year invest US$400,000 in equipment and upgrades to position for even more business, a capital project first disclosed last year.