At the forefront of this transformation is Winfresh, the Caribbean’s premier supplier of bananas to the UK market and the most successful marketer of agricultural produce in the OECS.
Over the past decades, Winfresh has played a critical role in helping to stabilise and sustain the Windward Islands banana industry by managing the shipment and sale of the bananas primarily to the UK market.
However, along the way, the Company has faced and continues to face enormous challenges, the most formidable of which was the liberalisation of the EU banana market and the dismantling of the preferential arrangements which Windward Islands bananas previously enjoyed on the market.
Since then, the situation has become more challenging with the unrelenting downward pressure on prices in the market, supply disruption caused by adverse weather conditions and the advent of Black Sigatoka disease compounded by the lack of consistency of product quality.
Against this very challenging backdrop, the Company has persevered, determined not only to keep the Windward Islands banana industry alive, but assisting farmers with interest-free loans for farm improvements and constantly searching for and employing new approaches to make the industry more productive and competitive to secure and sustain it for the long term.
A few years ago, Winfresh took the decision to rebrand and re-position itself in the market in order to secure and grow the business. Since then, the journey has taken the Company from the position where it dealt exclusively in bananas to now where it is expanding its product range to include not only other fresh produce but also value-added manufactured products.
“We took the decision to diversify—not out of bananas, because it is still our core business and a very important part of our operations—to secure and grow the business,” says Winfresh Chief Executive, Bernard Cornibert.” We decided to go into agro-processing because we wanted to utilise the other produce or crops that are produced in the Windward Islands by adding value to those that will have difficulty making it to the market as fresh produce. That is the rationale for our investments in agro-processing facilities in the islands which are intended to utilize local produce.”
Mr Cornibert said these new ventures, which are all 100% owned by Winfresh, represent a new thrust by Winfresh to broaden its product based and to expand market opportunities for local crops. They also represent a demonstration of Winfresh’s commitment to crop diversification in the Windward Islands, he added.
Meanwhile, Winfresh is preparing to launch a number of its new products before the end of this year.
“We want the Winfresh brand to be known for good quality, wholesome and tasty products right across our product range, that customers can enjoy and trust. Our flagship product will be a product that we call “Fruit Scoop”. It is a product that is unique to Winfresh. It is made entirely of fruit, has the consistency and “scoopability” of ice cream but is dairy-free and with no added sugar.
It will be produced at our plant in Grenada where we will also produce fruit based dairy ice cream. We have had some delays and so we have had to push back the launch date but, barring further unexpected delays, we expect to formally open the plants and to launch the first sets of products before the end of this year when we will be unveiling a line of very exciting products,” says Mr. Cornibert.
Does all this means that Winfresh will eventually get out of the banana business? Not so, says Winfresh Chairman, Simon Stiell. He believes there is still a place in the UK market for good quality Caribbean bananas.
“Presently we are looking at how we can best serve that market with all the competitive pressures that we are facing. The major suppliers are in Latin America and West Africa and our biggest challenge in the market is competing on price.” said Mr. Stiell.
Winfresh has demonstrated that when push comes to shove it has the courage, determination and the business experience to do what is required to maintain its place in the UK market for quality Windward Islands bananas.
The Company is confident that it is positioned to chart a new course in driving agricultural diversification in the Windward Islands and taking on the challenges in the market.