Sweet deal for citrus farmers
Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
JAMAICA BEVERAGES Limited yesterday formally announced its acquisition of Jamaica's Citrus Growers Limited's Bog Walk plant in St Catherine at a cost of more than J$1 billion. That price tag includes purchase of the property, as well as the cost of upgrading equipment and overall renovation of the facilities.
Under the agreement, finalised last December, the new owners have committed to promoting the Juciful line of boxed drink, and will pay royalty to the Jamaica Citrus Growers Association (JCGA) for use of the brand which it still owns.
In addition, Jamaica Beverages Limited is granting the JCGA US$100,000 to construct a nursery greenhouse to grow citrus seedlings, which it will sell to members at a subsidised cost.
Speaking at the Terra Nova, Paul Shoucair, acting general manager of Jamaica Beverages, gave the assurance that it would purchase all available citrus products from the estimated 7,000 farmers who are members of the JCGA.
Production at all-time low
This commitment comes at a time when local citrus production is at an all-time low, due to devastation of the industry by citrus greening, citrus Tristeza virus, and bad weather. Despite having a throughput capacity to process one million boxes of fruit (one box oranges = 90 pounds, grapefruit = 80 pounds), the company was able to source a mere 140,000 boxes of citrus locally last year.
Noting that in recent years the company had been operating at less than 20 per cent of capacity by way of fruit delivery and intake, John Thompson, chairman of the JCGA, lamented that he had undermined its capacity to remain efficient and viable. He welcomed the investment by Jamaica Beverages Limited, which will see the company still maintaining a presence of sorts in the market by way of its Juciful brand.
Located on seven acres, with another seven acres available for expansion, the Jamaica Citrus Growers Limited was established as a limited liability company on December 19, 1949, with the parent company Citrus Growers Association being the sole shareholder.
Since acquiring the plant Jamaica Beverages Limited has rebuilt all filling machines and juice extractors, bring them back to industry standards, in the process employing some 50 new workers.
"As our market share increases, we will be adding more contract van sale representatives, more staff at the plant, more merchandisers, more distributors and more contract truck drivers to our team. In other words, we intend to create more employment for Jamaicans," stated Shoucair.
"With this investment, Jamaica Beverages Limited is sending a message to all Jamaicans that we have full confidence in the future of the country."