As is one of our more important editorial roles, the Stabroek Business has continually provided a measure of exposure for emerging businesses of various types that are still to meet the stage where they can afford to adequately market their ventures. We do not discriminate in terms of the types of businesses that we focus on though, truth be told, most of our coverage of that type has affected agro processing and the broader manufacturing sector. Part of our focus has to be with our interest in the role of agro processing in broadening the base of the country’s agricultural sector, maximizing local consumption and creating overseas market opportunities for locally agro-processed goods. Our motive is much the same when it comes to other manufactured goods.
Living as we do in the age of open markets, minimal trade barriers and high-end consumer goods outlets, the groundswell of imported consumer goods, particularly imported foods, can easily cause us to ignore the fact that there is a thriving agro processing sector here in Guyana. As it happens, its market success is limited by a host of constraints, not least, underdeveloped manufacturing capacity, raw materials limitations, difficulties in securing investment capital and labeling and packaging challenges. The story that we hear frequently is that there are many locally made products that match their imported counterparts in terms of quality but lag behind in terms of the sort of customer appeal that derives from labeling and packaging.
In this week’s issue we attempt to shine a spotlight on part of the impressive range of locally manufactured goods in a story that deals with the display service at the Guyana Marketing Corporation’s Guyana Shop. All told we counted more than 100 products including wines, honey, fruit cake mix, fruit drinks, spices, casareep, jams and jellies, peanut butter and detergents and disinfectants.
Setting aside what we considered to be the encouraging range of local products on display we noted a marked improvement in the standard of both labeling and packaging, an issue, we are told, that is of concern to the major supermarkets to which our agro processors are seeking access. The point should be made, of course, that whereas local outlets are altogether justified in setting standards (in terms of packaging and labeling) for items that seek access to their display shelves, they should be prepared to re-evaluate these products to take account of encouraging evidence of ongoing upgrading of labeling and packaging standards.
If the local manufacturing sector, including the small and medium scale operators in the agro-processing sector is to secure access to a broader domestic market, more effort is clearly required from the Ministry of Business as well as the major Business Support Organisations – the PSC, the GMSA and the GCCI – to lobby the major local supermarkets to accept locally produced goods that manifestly pass the labeling and packaging standards ‘test.’ Frankly, we believe it would be a harsh irony if, in the face of aggressive lobbying to secure overseas markets for these goods both the government and the private sector neglect to do what they can to grow the local market.
Last week, just days after he had just overseen the commissioning of the country’s largest supermarket complex this newspaper engaged Mr. Harry Mattai in an absorbing conversation on his policy with regard to offering locally produced goods for sale. Apart from a commitment to engage local farmers with a view to providing a market for fresh fruit and vegetables the businessman also undertook to encourage local manufacturers to engage him on the matter of having their products secure a place on the new Supermarket’s shelves on the condition that the product and its presentation meet certain minimum standards. We believe that it is now for the local small scale manufacturers to engage Mr. Mattai.
All of this is as much a challenge to the manufacturers as it is to the various distribution outlets. It is a challenge to match what are already the high expectations of consumers exposed as they have long been to the ‘luxury’ of foreign taste. If they are to survive in a competitive environment local producers are going to have to match expectations that go beyond just labeling and packaging. They will have to address issues of product quality, reliability of supply and food safety considerations, among others. That challenge has to be seen against the backdrop of a domestic environment that is still deficient in a range of respects, including critical investment infrastructure. That too is a challenge that has to be met and overcome…but then at least we appear to be headed in the right direction.