The country is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence, which is being considered a moment to reflect on how to turn expectations into reality. If Trinidad and Tobago was a brand, what do you think should be communicated internationally?
This question parallels with the kind of thinking that we have with our brands, because in order to be successful internationally, which is one of our goals, we need to “tap in” to what people understand is a lifestyle of the Caribbean and Trinidad. When someone drinks a Carib, what they are doing for a few minutes is having the Caribbean and Trinidad experience and how we live our lives. This is a nation of very hospitable, energized and creative people that knows how to enjoy life. This experience is how we are marketing a brand like Carib to certain countries. In my opinion, Trinidad needs to be viewed in that perspective as a brand.
The global financial crisis affected the whole world but Trinidad and Tobago dealt with it very well. What was the measure implemented in order to survive the global financial crisis?
I think Trinidad got impacted mainly because of local situations rather than the global financial scenario. The consumers’ confidence was affected as we went through political change. The consumers are hearing all over the world about what’s going on with the financial situation and in T&T they saw their own political changes taking place and they started to tighten their belts at all times.
As a company, we have to handle the scenario by making sure that we are available at the right price and in the right experience. We just have to be there and give our costumer a certain level of confidence.
In the last two years there have been many things that affected the traditional behavior of beer and alcohol consumption in Trinidad. We have managed to work our way through those things.
Going back to the fact that Trinidad & Tobago is one of the most industrialized islands in the region, what do you think is needed for the manufacturing sector of Trinidad & Tobago to foster its growth and go global?
There are two things. One relates to innovation. If we are going to be operating on the global scale, unless you have something different in your approach (i.e. innovation or a different business model) to give you an advantage, you are not going to be able to play on a global scale. You will continue to play on what we call a regional scale.
Trinidad is very strong in the regional market but if we want to do well on a global scale, we need to capture the essence of our trademarks and make it appealing to markets across the world.
Taking Carib as an example, it doesn’t mean that we have to produce every bottle of Carib in Trinidad if we want to sell it in Hong Kong for that matter, but it does mean that we have to be able to deliver the same product in Hong Kong and have the ability to show to them that this is what a Carib is all about.
How is Carib leading by example and applying that innovation in order to be successful?
The first thing we look at is our product. For example, we have developed our light beer and it has been extremely successful. Compared to other markets, this product was way behind in Trinidad & Tobago but it has been a success because we learnt from the expertise and experiences in other countries. We developed the right product and found the perfect way to communicate it.
Our main challenge now is to identify the best way to enter new markets with our products and deliver our Caribbean experience. This is the area where our innovation should be. We are also looking at different arrangements (i.e. franchising, packaging) that will allow us to become more than just a small niche player. We also have to find the local partners that will believe in Carib the way we believe in it.
Carib is one of the most beloved brands of Trinidad and Tobago and it is considered to be the country’s brand. Could you comment on how you are promoting Carib as the flavor of T&T and the Caribbean abroad?
We do it in different ways, depending on the market that we are heading to. I would say that in the U.S., we are attempting what would be considered a more traditional way, which is the association that I have described: drink what we drink in Caribbean. But there are many, many issues in entering the U.S. market, especially the alcohol segment that we have to work on.
We do very well in Greece of all places, but again the important thing there is that we have a wonderful local partner in the Heineken Brewery. They use Carib to counter Corona. We have what you call the beach beer market in Greece, where you have so many tourists looking for that relationship between sun and consumption. It is just another example of how we use the route to market and the partnership that we have locally as a specific opportunity.
The name Carib is just an immediate association with Caribbean so that’s another advantage that we have and that we focus on.
Beers have become the most representative brands of the producing countries. I can think of Guinness in Ireland, Corona in Mexico, Quilmes in Argentina and obviously, Carib in T&T. Why would you think people get so identified with beer?
Beer is one of the few really personal decisions left for men. And it truly makes a statement about their image, about their lifestyle, about who you are and so on. And that’s a worldwide phenomenon!
If you are drinking a Carib in Greece, you are saying to someone that I am here to enjoy myself and I want to be associated with the elements of my holidays like: relaxing, fun, that kind of scenario.
Do you have a beer for every man?
We definitely think so, especially now that we have just brought Heineken back to our “fold”. So we now believe that our portfolio in Trinidad can represent everyone. One of our advantages is that we have two strong co-brands: Carib and Stag. It’s like having Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in your portfolio. If you look at other countries in the region, like Jamaica, Barbados or Guyana, they all have a single local brand and therefore alternative choices are less important. In Trinidad & Tobago, it’s more about having the beer that fits you.
Carib Brewery is a manufacturer but also a distributor of other brands like Heineken or Guinness.
We produce Guinness here. We have only started to distribute Heineken but in a longer term our objective is to produce it as well.
Why have globally known brands like Guinness and Heineken trusted Carib Brewery to distribute their products?
Carib as an entity has the backing of the ANSA McAL Group and even Carib on its own is a significant enterprise. Therefore when you have that level of coverage and resources in a market like this, it is a real advantage to be putting yourself through our system and utilize our customer relationships.
One of the key success factors of Carib is that you really listen to your customers and understand what they want to drink. What new trends are you currently focusing on?
Our strength is our potential issue as well. We are so strong in the market that we no longer take share in Trinidad. We still can grow in Trinidad but we also need to look abroad.
The problem with growing internationally is that it’s more difficult and less profitable initially, as it is a long-term investment. 22% percent of our business is international, but that doesn’t mean that 22% of our profits are international.
We have focused on growing the local market, which means that we have to get people to consume beer more frequently, which generally means that they have to do it at the expense of other alcohol products. It’s a much more difficult switch than just taking share from the other beer.
How are you dealing with a more sophisticated taste of the consumers in Trinidad & Tobago?
This is an issue for all alcohol suppliers. We deal with that by educating people that beer is actually not nearly as bad as you think. As an industry, we have done a very poor job, by positioning our products as fun and lifestyle oriented. We have gone completely away from the fact that there are a lot of good things about it. Having a beer or two on a daily basis is actually a good thing for you from a health point of view. As an industry it is not so much about changing products but I also think that we have a lot of work to do about promoting the benefits of our products.
What are you doing right now to educate people in Trinidad and Tobago about the benefits of drinking beer?
Last year we published a series on the history of beer. We are focused on getting our light beer on the market. We are very proud of it because it’s a surprisingly good beer. A lot of people have a very low opinion of light beer but it surprises them when they try it. We are also working on promoting other products like Malta, Ginseng, Carib Shandy and so on.
Carib is one of the companies at the forefront of corporate responsibility in Trinidad & Tobago. What CSR programs are you are implementing in T&T?
We are involved in the sporting culture of Trinidad & Tobago. The Minister of Works & Infrastructure keeps saying that we are the Ministry of Sport. We are also focused on promoting our environmental side, by recycling our products, and developing the local communities.
We are currently investing in how we develop the skills of the youth who are our future customers. We are focusing on educating youth and responsibility messaging. It will give you some skills but it will also really prepare you for life. Also we are the leading contributor to TTBAA.
What is your management style?
I’m a manager that leads by having the vision. My hope is that the management team can see together, where our future should be. And once we agree on that, then how we get there is supposed to be generated by everyone. My style is to encourage everyone to work, come up with solutions and to make sure that there is enough diversity and skills within the organization to get there. Apart from that it’s very heavy on transparency, openness, no hidden agendas. The other rule is no surprises.
Are you Carib or Stag?
I’m a Carib person, but I traditionally hadn’t been a beer drinker until I came to this job just over three years ago. Now I’m drinking beer a lot more but I do drink Carib and Carib Light. Carib is a truly unique recipe and it is very rare to find a beer that really could imitate it.