Thu | Feb 20, 2020

New owner of Sweet River plots turnaround - Meat export to Caribbean markets an ‘immediate target’

Published:Wednesday | February 12, 2020 | 12:14 AMKarena Bennett/Business Reporter
A graphical representation of the Sweet Abbattoir meat plant that was developed in Westmoreland by the former owners of the company.

The new owners of Sweet River Abattoir hope to turn around the loss-making operation through additions to the product range, meat outlets and new markets in the region.

Sweet River, which has struggled to generate big revenues and and deliver sustained profits since its listing on the stock exchange more than five years ago, was delisted on Monday after a period of suspension and subsequent to its forced sale at auction.

The assets and business of Sweet River were purchased last November by Richard Lake’s company Lydford Logistics Limited for $160 million, after the Westmoreland-based company fell into arrears on its bank loan.

The meat processing operation has been renamed Lydford Manufacturing Limited, but will trade as Sweet River Meats from its current base.

The new head of the operation Victor Wright is looking to make a comeback for the company over the next six months. His first order of the business is to get the plant up to international standard for Sweet River to eventually become a supplier of meats to Lake’s chain of restaurants.

The businessman controls the local franchises of Burger King, Popeyes and Little Caesars through Restaurants Associates Limited.

“We have already invited the health department and the veterinary services division to come and audit the facility and to make recommendations as to what will be required. We also have a consult on board,” Wright, the general manager of Sweet River, told the Financial Gleaner.

Under its former owners, Sweet River procured pigs, sheep, and goats from farmers in Western Jamaica and beyond. The company’s main customers included Grace Foods Processors Limited, Caribbean Producers Jamaica Limited, and Hamilton’s Smoke House, which is owned by the Jamaica Broilers Group.

Additional products

Under the direction of Lake, Sweet River is looking to add ham and bacon to its product lines.

Sweet River is looking within the region to the Burger King outlets in Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados as a source for the hams; and has its eyes on Cuba and Haiti, as potential markets for fresh pork and its by-products.

“Burger King is a user of bacon, pepperoni and ham. That’s as far as we would integrate; but we intend to also be dominant in the fresh pork market as well,” Wright said.

“Export is an immediate target and that’s why we’re having the facility audited. Burger King has a certain demand but it has its own supplier, so in terms of new markets, we will be substituting some and grow out the market by advertising and promotion,” he continued.

Locally, Wright is targeting the hotel industry for fresh pork as well as strengthen previous supply relations Sweet River has with CPJ and Grace Foods. Plans are also underway to partner with the Pig Farmers Association of Jamaica as a supply source.

“The market is so much and no more. Our target will be the hotels and we will have fresh meat market outlets across the country,” the general manager said.

Sweet River is investing in new equipment, a new cutting facility, incinerator for waste disposal and the retooling of some machinery to take on the new markets. Wright noted that the company is looking to slaughter up to 200 per day in the first instance.

The company also anticipates a doubling of its employment numbers which now stands at 33.

“We are not going to building a cold room because we have space at our sister facility, Lydford Logistics, but we will be improving the structure that we currently have to make it more efficient,” Wright said.

A budget has not yet been determined for the development of the facility, but Wright noted that Sweet River does not intend “to hold anything back” in bringing the facility up to standard.