Guyana may not be anywhere close to the top of the regional pile as far as the high food import bill is concerned but Sterling Products Chief Executive Officer, Ramsey Ali says that should not diminish the focus on redirecting the country’s foreign exchange expenditure by taking advantage of what our agricultural sector has to offer.
In the instance of the company’s recently launched plantain fries it is a question of taking advantage of bountiful harvests and affordable prices, on the one hand, and the value-added potential afforded by agro-processing.
The advent of Plantain Fries raises the age-old debate in Guyana’s agricultural sector as to whether locally cultivated plantains produced at competitive prices is not a compelling argument for cutting back on the considerable amounts spent on importing potatoes and more recently, potato fries. The focus of the discourse may have shifted somewhat with the advent of new initiatives to cultivate potatoes in commercial quantities. That, however, still does not remove the argument for doing more with potatoes; at least that is the view of Sterling Products Ltd.
The Company is betting on both local farmers and consumers buying into the vision of adding value to plantains by simply presenting it to the market in a manner that is both pleasing and convenient. Sterling says it believes that on the demand side there is a potentially lucrative gap to be filled.
With Guyana’s chilled potato fries import bill standing in the vicinity of $650 million, (the vast majority of frozen potato fries is imported by the growing number of fast food restaurants that have found their way into Guyana) the advent of plantain fries is an interesting yardstick with which to measure the success of the country’s import substitution programme. There is, too, the potential of local plantain fries for making considerable headway on the regional market given what ought to be the product’s price competitiveness vis a vis extra-regional potato fries imported into the Caribbean.
The advent of the plantain fries, Sterling says, is a response to both the growing popularity of plantains in the lunch kits of the nation’s schoolchildren as well as the increase in the size of a middle class that appears more and more comfortable with conveniently packaged foods.
Sterling says that its journey to the eventual production of packaged plantain fries involved “significant consultations” with farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture and The World University Service of Canada (WUSC)/Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Produce through Enterprises and Linkages (PROPEL) in order to develop a stable supply chain. Sterling says that the plantain fries project “offers to create real value within the economy as farmers, manufacturers and retailers along the value chain gain more revenues and employment is created.” The product’s export potential, the company says, means that it can earn more foreign exchange for the country.
With the receptivity of local supermarkets and other outlets to some locally produced foods still the subject of discourse in the business sector (considerations of packaging and labeling are the major factors that affect access to supermarket shelves), Sterling Products has moved swiftly and with considerable success in popularizing its plantain fries. The company says that the product can be found in the Frozen Section of a number of supermarkets countrywide, including the ‘heavy hitters’ in the local food service industry like Massy, DSL, Bounty, Fresh Co. and Rams.