Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Large sugar packers ready for new retail standards

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2017 | 1:00 AMTameka Gordon
Seprod's Golden Grove Pure Jamaican Cane Sugar.
A package of Jamaica Gold sugar packaged by Caribbean Depot for JCPS.

Palm Rose Commodity Limited, one of the latest entrants to the sugar trading market, says the recent $70 million investment in its packaging operation will allow the company to meet the new mandatory standards for brown sugar produced for the retail market.

Other larger entities, such as Caribbean Depot Limited and Seprod's Golden Grove Sugar Factory, say they are already in compliance.

"We are ahead of the standards," said Seprod CEO Richard Pandohie.

Come July 1, all brown sugar sold in the retail trade will have to be packaged and labelled in keeping with revised mandatory standards announced by Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, earlier this month.

The announcement comes after years of lobbying by entities such as Jamaica Cane Products Sales (JCPS), which itself sells retail sugar that is packaged on its behalf by Caribbean Depot.

The measure is intended to improve traceability and safety standards. The retail sugar market has been growing, but the quality of the branded products varies and they sometimes contain sediments and crystals of different hues.

Palm Rose manager Rudolph May says his company has been steadily improving its capabilities and has bought several pieces of new packing machines in the last two years. The company sells under the Royal Rose brand.

"We started over a year ago but then we added to our system recently, in anticipation of what was going to happen. So, right now we are properly geared up," May said, noting that the investments over the period amounted to $70 million.

Of the impact the standards will have on the market, Pandohie, while noting Seprod's support for the move, questioned why it hasn't also been applied to refined sugar.

All refined sugar is imported in bulk and packaged by various players for distribution. Seprod deals only in brown sugar produced by its St Thomas-based factory.

The conglomerate invested some $120 million in its plant and packing equipment ahead of the launch of its own brown sugar product Golden Grove Pure Jamaican Cane Sugar.

"I'm disappointed that it wasn't extended to refined sugar and (I'm) a bit puzzled by why they made it brown sugar and not all the sugars," Pandohie said, noting the need for food security.

Under the new standards, only approved entities will be allowed to buy and sell bulk sugar packaged in 50-kilogram bags, while registered entities will be allowed to repack the bulk sweetener in smaller packages of five kilograms or less.

The revision addresses specific requirements for prepackaged sugar, including moisture of content less than or between 0.25 or 0.5 five per cent.

All producers and packers are also now required to implement approved food-safety practices, such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point standards.

Michael Jureidini, the head of Caribbean Depot, said the move towards standardisation of retail sugar should result in increased demand for branded products.

Caribbean Depot itself has been positioning for additional customers.

The plant, which now only operates on one shift, has been steadily improving its capacity to meet increased demand. Now, by just implementing additional shifts, Caribbean Depot would be in position to take on new business, Jureidini said.

Palm Rose Commodity, which buys raw sugar from JCPS and Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, says the quality of the sweetener, which is manufactured from sugar cane, also needs to be improved.

"We are hoping that the quality of the sugar that we get from the mills will be improved because sometimes the moisture level is a bit on the high side and, sometimes also, the sugar does contain foreign materials," May said.

Other traders entering the retail sugar market over the past few years include DK Processors Jamaica, Sue Pat Sales, HarveDan Marketing Limited, and Green Hills Distributors.

Marsha Fairclough, the manager of Green Hills Distributors, says company officials have not yet reviewed what the new standards will require of them but plans to do so.