Tue | Sep 27, 2022

Sweet River rebuilding pig supply network

Published:Friday | February 11, 2022 | 12:07 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Lydford Logistics, the business that acquired meat-processing company Sweet River Abattoir in early 2020, spent the first year repairing strained relationships and rehabilitating its brand. Now Sweet River is back to doing business with 32 farmers...

Lydford Logistics, the business that acquired meat-processing company Sweet River Abattoir in early 2020, spent the first year repairing strained relationships and rehabilitating its brand.

Now Sweet River is back to doing business with 32 farmers, all of whom are located in Westmoreland. But to reach its goal of controlling 10 per cent of the pork supply market over the next few years, the company must win over more pig farmers or pump cash into starting its own farms.

The latter is not on the cards for Sweet River, at least not in the short term. Instead, new Managing Director Tushane Taylor intends to woo new contract farmers from parishes such as St Elizabeth and Trelawny, through marketing efforts and one-on-one meetings as the company repositions.

The abattoir, which was acquired by Lydford Logistics Limited at auction, had fallen into financial troubles, leading in mid-2019 to a conflict with farmers who, at the time, said they were owed $2.8 million for pigs supplied to the slaughterhouse.

It led to an acrimonious dispute, at the centre of which was the abattoir’s then manager and co-owner Valdence Gifford.

Lydford Logistics, a member of businessman Richard Lake’s group of companies, bought Sweet River for $160 million after the Westmoreland-based company fell into arrears on its bank loan.

The new owner’s plan to turn around the loss-making business includes expansion of its product offerings, the building of meat outlets across Jamaica, and, eventually targeting Caribbean markets to grow sales.

“It was challenging to get persons to understand that we are not the old administration, but things have gotten a little better with time,” Taylor told the Financial Gleaner.

As business picks up, Sweet River is looking to increase the number of pigs it slaughters annually for uptake by Lydford Logistics, which now stands as its only customer.

It’s currently considering the purchase of company trucks to lower operational costs for the business, and training sessions with small farmers to get them operating more efficiently, Taylor said.

Lydford Logistics, a food service and food-processing company located in St Ann, processes the pork it buys from Sweet River into ham, bacon and other products, which it sells to hotels and restaurants.

As the abattoir expands, Lydford intends to make Sweet River the primary raw material source for the pork products used in Lake’s food franchises, Burger King, Popeyes and Little Caesars, that are operated through Restaurants Associates Limited.

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 Limited, which is owned by the Jamaica Broilers Group.

“Our focus now is only on pork production, but we have the ability to procure other small ruminants, and could offer those products through contract services,” Taylor said.

Jamaica slaughters some 110,000 pigs annually, and Sweet River wants to control a tenth of that market. Its current output was not disclosed. The company is also in the process of securing global food safety certificates for the eventual export of products to the Caribbean.

Lake’s meat companies are looking towards Burger King outlets in Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados as a market for the hams; and Cuba and Haiti as potential markets for fresh pork and its by-products.

Sweet River, which listed on the junior market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange in 2014, was delisted in 2019 after a period of suspension for breaching market rules, and subsequent to its forced sale at auction.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com