Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Sweet River rethinking plans for poultry

Published:Friday | August 12, 2016 | 8:00 AMTameka Gordon
Valdence Gifford, managing director of Sweet River Abattoir and Supplies Company Limited.

Since the opening of its new slaughtering facility at Ferris, Westmoreland, the operators of Sweet River Abattoir and Supplies Company has slaughtered some 2,000 pigs and is looking forward to continued increase in throughput, Managing Director Valdence Gifford said.

Speaking with the Financial Gleaner on the company's annual results for 2016, Gifford said the company is now "comfortable" with its supply of pigs from western farmers, so much so that it has shelved its plan to diversify into other protein options "for now."

The new facility opened in June.

"There is a significant improvement in the availability of pigs now compared to five/six months ago," Gifford said of an uptick in local stock.

The country saw a scarcity of pigs which spanned several quarters, forcing the only listed abattoir to near closure. But the uptick now spells better days, Gifford said.

To shore up the company after several quarters of losses, Sweet River proposed last year to diversify its offerings to poultry. Gifford now says the company is rethinking those plans, given the pickup in the pig market.

"The fact that our numbers were so low, we were literally struggling to survive. But once the number of pigs improved and soon sheep and goat will be available diversifying into poultry is not something that we would want to look at at this time," he said.

The abattoir was also designated the ninth agro-park, which further helped to boost its contractual arrangements, he said. Despite this, no sheep or goats have been slaughtered so far.

"We are working with the sheep and goat farmers to bring them on board as soon as possible. We are hoping that later this year we might commence, even in small numbers, particular coming on to the Christmas season when the demand for those products is at all-time high," Gifford said.

Of the performance of the new facility, Gifford said the company is "quite happy with the progress that has been made".

"We are comfortable with the supply of pigs that we are receiving at this time. We are able to satisfy our main markets, which was not so for the last two years or so," he said.

With interest from CARICOM markets to import pork form Jamaica, the abattoir is anticipating even better days ahead; however, Gifford said the focus now is more on meeting the needs of the Jamaican market.

"There have been some new entrants in the wholesale meat market in western Jamaica. At this time, we are trying to maximise the products that we know we have markets for," he said, noting a planned CARICOM mission to access Jamaica's capability as a pork supplier.

Sweet River is gauging carefully its ability to take on this export market, even in the face of previous pronouncements of being expor- hungry.

"We are looking forward to that without doubt, but I am not sure of our state of readiness. We want to satisfy or local market first before we look beyond. For the past two years, we weren't able to meet our demand, so now that we are at that level, we want to fully satisfy our local market," he said.

Sweet River posted improved revenues of $215 million for the year ended March 2016 or a 77 per cent increase over the $121 million earned the previous year.

However, its net losses expanded to $5.5 million or 18 per cent more than the $4.7 million loss recorded in 2015.

Sweet River said the results were due to a 95 per cent spike in expenses. The company paid high prices for pigs due to the shortage.

This year, however: "We will be working closer with our suppliers of raw materials and technical support to farmers, as we are projecting further growth and expansion of our markets over the next few years," the company said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com