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Global economic decline hits Erica’s

Global economic decline hits Erica’s


The global economic decline has hit home for one of this country’s major agro-processors, Erica’s Country Style.{{more}}

After over 20 years in business, proprietor Erica McIntosh says that her local, regional and international buyers have cut back on their orders, forcing her to restructure her operations.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday, McIntosh said her company used to export on a larger scale.

“But everybody has cut back on their buying powers,” she said.

“It’s not shut down as rumoured,” she said, of the company which was established in 1989.

McIntosh disclosed that even the local supermarkets are not buying as much of her produce as they used to, which means the consumers too, have cut back.

The winner of 1999 Entrepreneur of the Year award also referred to what she considers to be unfair competition, by a new government enterprise, which is able to sell its products at a cheaper price.

She said not including the government entity, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, there are 17 producers of green seasoning and 22 of pepper sauce.

“We have to be realistic. Everybody is looking at the dollar, and then to have to compete with a factory here, that is locally doing it and underselling all of us,” McIntosh said.

“So it’s the whole economic situation that’s happening in the country and outside of the country that’s affecting Erica’s,” she stated.

Because of the restructuring process, McIntosh’s staff has been affected, but she indicated that she has not laid off or fired anyone.

The proprietor revealed that apart from her, five other individuals who’ve been staff members for a period of time, are still employed with the company.

“As far as the staffing goes at the plant, … we are alternating the staff. Like one on, one off. So it’s not that we’ve sent them home permanently,” she said.

Despite the situation her company is facing, McIntosh said she is not letting it get her down.

She said having to make the decision to restructure has been “very hard” for her, in particular not being able to support the local farming community from whom she buys all her raw materials.

“It is very close to my heart and this is all I ever did. People are calling in on radio stations and saying things like ‘She has her bread buttered and that kind of story’.

“People do not understand business in St. Vincent and that is what we need to get across here,” McIntosh said, adding that Erica’s Country Style is probably one of the first small businesses to undertake the restructuring process.

“It so happens that I am one of the small ones. What happen to the bigger institutions who are laying off people? They are sending them home… I haven’t sent home anybody, they are here with me, but we are alternating the staff.”

Her staff members are very understanding about the situation, she said.

The cut back in production has left the company with an excess of raw materials and finished product which are over crowding the company’s store rooms.

McIntosh said in the past, she exported products every other month to countries such as Barbados, Tortola, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

However, this year the company has only sent off one shipment.

“Right now on my factory floor, I have pepper sauce that you can bathe the entire population of St. Vincent in pepper now,” McIntosh said.

A visit to the factory revealed dozens of containers along with four freezers of frozen raw materials.

“All my bags are full, my freezers are full, and my drums are full. What am I to do?

McIntosh is however hopeful that the markets will soon be revived and Erica’s Country Style will return to its normal operations of selling larger quantities of produce on the local and export markets.

McIntosh also expressed concern about the introduction of the Environment Levy, which she said, will affect small agro-processors like her.

Under the Environment Levy Act of 2009, importers of beer, stout, malt, ales, aerated drinks, juices, excluding infant juices, and water imported in cans and bottles are required to deposit a levy of 50 cents per can or bottle at the time of importation and/or release.

“That fifty cent has to go on to those bottles … So we are not competitive with the imports from Trinidad. Seasoning and pepper sauce are a lot cheaper than how much you can buy the local ones manufactured here for. And there is the 15 per cent VAT again.

“What are we trying to do, kill one another?” she asked.

Despite the “bad phase” the company is facing presently, McIntosh assured that she is not giving up.

With passion in her voice, McIntosh said she’s confident that things will get better.

“No way! I’m not going to quit. I’ve been brought up by a very strong by one Biscuit McIntosh, my father. And it’s no way. If he was alive today he would say, “keep fighting” and that is exactly what I’m doing…

“I am hoping and praying that by December things will pick up. Then I’ll be able to have my full quota of staff and we will all have a good Christmas.”