Peter McConnell: From the country, staying in the country
Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
At age 40-something, Peter McConnell, managing director of Trade Winds Citrus Limited (TWCL), is still firmly rooted in the rural community of Bog Walk, St Catherine, his childhood home. And, having tried life in a foreign land, he is also a living testament that "nowhere no better than yard".
Today the successful businessman, under whose leadership the well-loved Tru-Juice brand of fruit juices falls, is proudly following the farming/manufacturing tradition of his father and grandfather.
From his vantage point on the family compound, McConnell is perfectly positioned to steer the family business on to a path for future generations. He is armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in soil and crop science agronomy and years of hands-on experience from boyhood to the present. One could say, the orange rind is in his blood.
The farm comprises chilled warehouses, its own petrol station, garage and machine shop, stores, blending and bottling plants, fleet of vehicles, orchards and administrative buildings. On the farm, harvesting takes place from January to June and up to 800 persons are employed at this time as against some 350 the rest of the year. Exports of fresh oranges are done in conjunction with overseas co-packers who receive the raw material and package and distribute to markets as far as England. The product has a long shelf life.
Time of transition
The Texas A&M University honour student's timetable now revolves around a team of dedicated sales and marketing staff. The company's flagship Tru-Juice Premium Quality orange juice heads the ever-growing list of locally manufactured juices. And, neither McConnell nor his team is about to rest on their laurels, as was learnt on a recent visit to the Bog Walk landmark.
McConnell is the middle of three children. When he returned home from studies abroad, it was an exciting time of transition from the sugar cane of the former Worthy Park Estate to citrus.
"It was a huge challenge for the family, but from high school, I knew I wanted to study agriculture, so I was prepared," said the businessman.
McConnell is among a minority of Jamaicans who have a real love for the land. So much so, when asked what he envisions for Jamaica's agricultural sector in 20 years, he said he would like to see a national policy on farming. Why? "Farming is a tough way to make a living but it creates most value added and employment. We should produce what we need to feed ourselves, and that includes food processing," McConnell offered by way of explanation.
He emphasised further that we should not be importing crops we can produce here successfully; that the Government should impose duties on imports; and food that processors should get the same tax exemptions as the farmers to encourage production.
"Incentives to the farming sector must include the agroprocessors because the farmers must have a guaranteed outlet for their produce. Processors need incentives to do more local packaging," McConnell said, as he stressed that Jamaicans ought to have faith in their farmers. "We are heading in the right direction, we are not there yet."
These views were not arrived at overnight. Working alongside a family that encouraged him to focus on the land, he majored in soil and crop science, and tree crops and citrus. "And, I graduated with honours," McConnell said proudly, while insisting that a lot of his knowledge came from local expert C.V. Bent, or 'Mr Citrus' as he was fondly called. "He was a great citriculture teacher and mentor who held nothing back."
McConnell's father and uncles taught him the operational side of the business. During the '80's following the transition from sugar cane to citrus, fresh oranges were mostly exported, but then came manufacturing of concentrate. This, in a nutshell, is simply removing the excess water from the fruit, freezing it then adding the water to make juice. Hence, the juices bearing the Tru-Juice label are all Jamaican! Other juices that undergo the same process are: June plum, carrot, mango, sorrel.
The company has, for over a year, been perfecting its own brand of rum punch, which is a combination of its Calico Jack and fruit punch. "It is from an old family recipe using the dark rum, and it is a chilled product, ready to drink. This excellent product will be on the shelves again this Christmas.
When he is not at work, McConnell is still close by. His daily morning jog takes him from the hilltop to the office, and these days, he also spends time cycling with the youngest of his three children. He has no desire for city life or foreign lands and stays in good shape for the job with weight training, spinning and playing football. Family activities include trips to the beach, swimming, watching television, the annual bird-shooting season and reading.