VAP propelled by partnerships, market force and family
For 10 years, Victor Chin worked at beverage company Shim’s on Orange Street in downtown Kingston, experience that would serve him well when he ventured into business by himself, with his own brand of beverages.
With a loan of $120,000, four mixing tanks and a dream of becoming Jamaica’s largest producer of bulk syrups, Chin took the decision to cut ties with a business operated by his 13 brothers and sisters to start an operation that is today managed by his offspring and grandchildren.
That gave rise to VAP, a name he selected as an ode to family.
“My brother and I acquired Shim’s Wholesale Liquor in 1978 and I ran that business with my family. In 1988, I decided to go on my own and establish VAP, which stood for my first initial, and my two sons, Andre and Pierre,” Chin told NextGen Business, a series by the Financial Gleaner that features generational companies.
VAP started with five employees, including the father-and-sons team, from a leased 1,000 square feet two-storey building at the corner of East and Barry Streets. The company was in the business of manufacturing bulk syrup and soon diversified into box and bag drinks.
“When we got our first contract for bulk syrup we had no filling line, so we had to set a drum with a pipe tap and we filled one bottle at a time,” Chin recalled. “But I did it for my only two children.”
Like the typical family business, both Pierre and Andre were required to wear several hats on the job including driver, salesman and production staff.
As the business grew, Chin secured a 4,700 square feet plant at White Marl, St Catherine, through the Factories Corporation of Jamaica, which allowed for further diversification into vinegar, wines, squashes and ketchup. By this time, Chin had renamed the company as Very Amazing Products Limited and was producing its core product – syrup – in 11 flavours and four sizes.
“We started to grow,” he said. “We left from bulk syrup and got a filling line for smaller containers.”
But more was to come. In 1995, Pierre and his father brainstormed the idea of contract manufacturing to improve revenue for the company while maximising on production capacity of the company. The duo managed to secure contracts with the likes of Facey Commodity, GraceKennedy and T. Geddes Grant for vinegar and syrup production.
The company also ventured into export to the United States through a US-based distribution company owned by Jamaica Producers Group.
“We were doing all of those brands, but then we came with our own brand, which is Pure. And then we started to campaign with Oliver Samuels and that was when the real growth started,” Pierre told the Financial Gleaner.
To facilitate the increased business, the company spread across more space at the leased Factories Corporation site. Later, however, Chin acquired a two-acre property at the Twickenham Park Industrial Estate in Spanish Town, St Catherine ,on which the founder built a plant spanning 35,000 square feet. The location allowed for greater efficiencies in VAP’s operation and also led to the company securing more health and safety certifications, the most recent being the Safe Quality Food certification, to tackle the regional and international markets.
Today, VAP’s workforce has grown fourteenfold to about 70 individuals, who produce its flagship Pure syrup brand, squash, wine, flavoured drink, tomato ketchup, vinegar, spring water, flavoured water and cooking oil.
About 65 per cent of VAP revenue is said to come from the production of its own brands.
Its foreign markets in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and the Caribbean are served through GraceKennedy’s distribution network. Exports account for 18 per cent of sales, but VAP wants to grow that, an initiative that Pierre’s children, Luke and Paige Chin, are expected to lead.
Already, the third generation of Chins, with assistance from long-time company director of sales and marketing, Bevan Antonio, has began repackaging the products to better appeal to international markets. The UK stands as a primary market for the company, based on its size and palate for Caribbean flavours.
VAP is also rebranding some of its products under the Pure Foods label, as the company prepares to roll out additional food lines.
“We have products and formulas to add to the production mix over the next three years, but we are not ready to speak about them yet,” said Luke Chin.
So far, VAP has added sorrel cordial concentrate along with lemon grass, cinnamon and ginger beer to its line of drinks and has pumped over $60 million into a filler machine, generator, water treatment plant, box coder, broiler and two trucks. The expansion will see VAP employing an additional 15 staff to manage the operation.
Aside from the plans to improve production capacity by an estimated 300 per cent, the equipment upgrade is partially aimed at new products, including a pouch-packaged ketchup targeted at Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.
“In Trinidad and Barbados, the pouch is the standard for them. When Bevan and visited the countries to seek business, everybody wanted the pouch which we didn’t have. So now that we’ve got the machine, we’ll be leveraging that to increase our export numbers,” Luke said.
The company, which has also been getting interest from St Lucia, plans to relaunch its Mandingo wine to boost sales for both the local and export markets.
“The Mandingo has done very well over the years, but some territories are not as familiar with the brand, so we are doing a relaunch,” Luke said.