There is, it seems, no end to the entrepreneurial opportunities that can emerge from tinkering with creative possibilities that repose in the range of fruit grown in Guyana…if you are prepared to make the effort, that is, and Diana Prowell who resides at 64 Self Help, Amelia’s Ward, Linden believes she could be on to something.
Building an agro processing business from ground up is challenging in ways which the Stabroek Business has shared with readers ad nauseum. What we have also shared are stories of adventurous experiments that have dared to be different and have worked.
As far as Diana is concerned pepper sauce is a routine condiment. To make money out of pepper sauce you have to compete against an array of roughly similar options that cram the supermarket shelves…local initiatives as well as brand name imports.
What Diana has done is to manufacture a product that panders to the taste of the traditional pepper sauce user while providing an option for those who might be adventurous enough to explore the culinary world of pepper sauce that offers heat while escaping simultaneously into a world of flavours.
So that what she has done is to experiment with a pepper sauce product that presses other local fruit into service…mango, papaw, cucumber, carilla, souree and tamarind…all bring their respective flavours to the table with a measure of subtlety that enhances the end product without creating the need for it to surrender its identity as pepper sauce.
So that Diana’s trading name, Pleasurable Flavours affords the kind of culinary adventure that no routine pepper sauce can and the market response to her range of sauces tells her that she can take it further.
As it happens Pleasurable Flavours was a modest business initiative taken in order to subsidise the cost of Diana’s daughter’s education. She stuck with it and with other products including preserved fruit and all-purposed seasoning, all of which can be found on the shelves of the Guyana Shop at the corner of Robb and Alexander streets. Agro processing enterprises like Pleasurable Flavours invariably have tenuous beginnings, driven by shoestring budgets with product emerging from cramped domestic kitchens and sales dependent on the patronage of an appreciative but decidedly modest market.
Neighbourhood patronage, however, cannot grow a business nor can expansion and recognition be realised outside the realm of the thicket of regulations, mostly food safety ones, that the agro processing industry must face. So Diana was inevitably driven in the direction of state agencies like the Government Analyst Food & Drug Department and the Guyana National Bureau of Standards. She recalls that the first batch of her product ‘cleared’ by the agencies for sale to the public was placed on the shelves of the Guyana Shop in October last year.
There are other mountains to climb. Like the myriad other small business ventures in the agro processing sector, Pleasurable Flavours is caught fast in the bind of high overheads, not least, the high cost of packaging and labeling. Her story is really no different to those that the Stabroek Business has encountered elsewhere. Those are hurdles that must be surmounted if there is to be a ‘graduation’ onto the shelves of the major local supermarkets to compete with the ‘big name’ products or if the products are to get even close to meeting the demanding standards of the export market. If Diana is not lacking in confidence in the quality of her product she understands only too well that pepper sauce packaged in ‘grenades,’ the name given to the 200 ml plastic bottles used to package the smallest quantity of rum, vodka and high wine sold locally is unlikely to ‘cut it’ in demanding local and international markets. The marginally more pleasing containers readily available on the local market are much costlier. Conscious of the danger of simply standing still Diana is engaging the local Small Business Bureau with a view to securing a loan for consolidating her enterprise.
If she was hoping that Pleasurable Flavours would serve as an important market for fruit farmers in Linden, prohibitive costs mean that she must make the journey to Georgetown to secure fruit at more manageable prices. Pepper, for example, costs between upwards of $300 per pound in Linden. In Georgetown she currently purchases pepper at between $60 and $100 per pound. Sometimes, she says, there are windfalls to be had in Linden. Someone may call her and ask that she come over and ‘clean’ the souree or five finger tree. In those circumstances a business arrangement can be worked out.
In the absence of the major leap forward which most local agro processing enterprises can only dream of at this stage, Pleasurable Flavours must settle for incremental advancement beginning with modest inroads into the local market. These days, the brand can be found in Georgetown at Nigel’s, DSL, Real Value and Reliance (on Regent street), three stalls in Bourda Market as well as Jermaine and Family Cheap Shop in Linden. In order to further promote the brand she has initiated tasting exercises at distribution points.
Diana believes that one of her major achievements has been the success she has realised in transforming Pleasurable Flavours into a structured enterprise. The company employs five persons whilst she serves as its salaried Chief Executive Officer. It is, she says, one of the ways in which she is able to measure real growth.
The demands associated with continually upgrading her products means that staff of the company have been involved in a number of training workshops. The current focus is on securing the coveted Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification, evidence of arrival at an integrated control system of food safety at all stages of production and distribution.
At the operations of Pleasurable Flavours there is, it seems, an insatiable desire for forward movement. Diana, it seems, has sought to shove the challenges to one side and to focus instead on challenging herself to please the market. She maintains an abiding faith in her ability to please the customer with her assorted experiments in flavour. Even as we were talking with her she was preparing to embark on trials utilising golden apple. As is customary, there will be the eager wait for the outcome, the testing and the eventual verdict of a demanding market.