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Lasco hires former rival executive to take iCool exports to 62 markets

Published:Friday | April 22, 2016 | 4:00 AMSteven Jackson
Paul Shoucair, new export manager for liquids at Lasco.
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LASCO has headhunted Paul Shoucair, former manager of a rival beverage company, with the remit to grow exports of LASCO's iCool drink initially to Trinidad, but, eventually, to 62 countries overall.

The five-year goal is to make LASCO the largest beverage maker in Jamaica and then the anglophone Caribbean. The move also represents a strategy to take market share from Trinidad drink brands in Jamaica and Trinidad.

Local manufacturers in both countries have, at times, an uneasy trade relation despite operating within a common trading bloc, CARICOM.

"One of the reasons I came to LASCO is that I saw the potential. There are two or three big beverage companies in Jamaica and I will make this statement that five years from now, this will be the biggest beverage company in Jamaica and one of the biggest in the Caribbean," said Shoucair, now LASCO's export manager of liquids, at the monthly Mayberry Investors Forum on Wednesday.

His appointment became effective a "few weeks ago" after demitting his previous post as vice-president and acting general manager of Jamaica Beverages Limited, an entity ultimately owned by SM Jaleel, a Trinidad-based company.

"Exports are not easy and it takes time and a lot of things that have to be done. We first have to walk into one of the Caribbean countries - whose name was called earlier - and fight them on that turf, which is what I intend to do first and send a signal to them," he said.

iCool launched in late 2014, eventually tripling capacity while snatching up local market share. Some view the drink as 'a bag juice in a bottle' in reference to its low price point, which cuts the price of imported sugary sweet beverages. iCool is made by LASCO Manufacturing Limited and sold by LASCO Distributors Limited.

In January, The Gleaner reported that Jamaica Beverages scaled back its operations, closing one manufacturing plant and outsourcing its local distribution. At that time, Shoucair, who then spoke to The Gleaner in his capacity as acting general manager of Jamaica Beverages, made no link between the restructuring and competition. That connection, however, was made by executive chairman of the LASCO-affiliated companies, Lascelles Chin, in his address at the Mayberry forum on Wednesday.

"Trinidad is exporting US$20 million worth of drinks to Jamaica and that should not happen. I do not know what those who were there before were doing, but it was not until LASCO came on with iCool that we have taken so much of that Trinidadian business that they are removing their distribution," Chin said to rousing applause. He then called on Shoucair, who was in the audience, to make an unscripted address at the podium during the forum.

Chin said Shoucair would be in charge of exporting to 62 countries. After Trinidad, the focus is expected to be on the diaspora markets.

"One of the first things that the chairman said to me was, 'I want to go global.' So I think you are going to start seeing some serious exports, and we will be in 62 or however many countries in the next whatever years," said Shoucair, in order to trigger laughter from the audience.

LASCO hired Shoucair for liquids as well as an unnamed export manager for solids.

"They are fantastic. We are going to see the doubling and tripling, even more, of exports," Chin said.

Two of the three LASCO-affiliated companies made significantly higher net profit in the December 2015 quarter when compared with the year-earlier levels.

LASCO Manufacturing reported comprehensive income of $232.3 million on revenues of $1.7 billion, or 46.7 per cent higher profit than a year earlier. The company credited its growth to new business from its iCool beverages.

LASCO Distributors earned $212 million net profit over three months to December 2015, or 10 per cent more than year earlier levels due to new business lines, which includes iCool. Its net profit over nine months climbed to $591.9 million, or 50 per cent higher than year-earlier levels.

LASCO Financial Services earned less profit at $43.9 million, compared to $69 million a year earlier because of increased staff costs associated with the growth of its loans and telecoms division.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com