Windmill Industries Ltd general manager Peter Miller. (Picture by Green Bananas Media.)
BUSINESSMAN PETER MILLER is a fighter. He is also an optimist and a firm believer in God.
So even though Windmill Industries Limited is not producing the volume of condiments, seasonings and drink concentrates it did in its heyday, the general manager is not ready to quit.
It’s been a struggle from 2007 onward in the local market. Windmill was established seven months before Barbados became an independent nation in 1996. With the company’s 50th anniversary of April 2016 approaching, Miller and his team have a renewed focus which he said should help.
“I’m an optimist and I trust that God will help me out of this, that we will get Windmill back. I don’t even like to say back because I’m not going back to where I was, I’m going forward with diversification.” he told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY during an interview at Sky Mall.
To hear the former Barbados Manufacturers’ Association president speak of the company’s origins one would understand how attached he is to it. At the age of 12, he started making mixed essence, using the name Windmill, and selling to small shop keepers so he could have enough money to go to the cinema.
Then at 18 years old, after leaving Combermere School, he got more involved and suggested to his father Luther that they make and sell pepper sauce, which Miller senior accepted. after some thought, he also decided to keep his son’s Windmill name.
Miller said his father invented mauby syrup, noting that while mauby was around for a long time, there was never a syrup up to then.
“My father sat down one day and said: ‘I can concentrate that’. He did the formulation and was the first person who did it in 1966.
“He did the same thing with ginger beer and sorrel; it was just a matter of replicating. We were the only people in mauby syrup at the time and one or two people crept in at the time,” he said.
He also remembers when their products were found in the region.
“We used to have a lot of markets in the Caribbean [but] that is gone mainly because of the difference in currency. If we got to sell to an Eastern Caribbean country it becomes rather expensive because of the EC dollar, the same thing with Trinidad, the same thing with Jamaica. In our heyday, we did well with Trinidad, Jamaica and all other Cairbbean islands,” he said.
“We were pioneers in that regard, were the first people to ship indigenous products to the wider Caribbean and extraregionally,” he recalled.
Miller also lamented that Barbados had “missed the boat” in exporting pepper sauces internationally.
“Years ago, I attended the Zesty Food Show in Texas. There were about 600 exhibitors, everybody had something hot and spicy, a guy even had black pepper ice cream. I’m setting up my booth on the Friday for the official opening later that evening, when this tall white Texas guy came to the booth and said: ‘Windmill, is this the Windmill that’s been around like forever?’. I said: ‘I don’t know, you’ve had it?’.
“He said he had a friend who went to university with him who would send him a bottle ever so often and ‘I love it but I can’t get it anywhere in Texas, why?’”
That man showed him he had a unique yellow pepper sauce, told him to increase the price from US$2.50 to US$5 and on top of that he bought a case of the product.
Miller said the sauce was such a hit that he was able to cover the cost of the trip from the sales. Another man wanted to purchase 100 cases of the pepper sauce.
“I came back here, met with the right people, told them this thing could be big, that we were wasting time with just a few people in New York and Boston. I [was] talking [about a big breakthrough], 40-foot containers with this stuff, but I never got the kind of financial assistance [required]. You would have to go up there [in the United States] and set up properly,” Miller explained.
“About three years ago, I read in Entrepreneur Magazine that the pepper sauce industry in the United States is worth US$1 billion and it was growing at the rate of one per cent per year, so by now it must be worth nearly US$2 billion,” he said.
Miller, who is credited as the brains behind BMEX, said he had lots of ideas and formulas in his head, on paper, and on his computer.
“I’m 67 now, I want to put some young energy in the business. I think it needs that kind of refreshing.
“What Windmill wants is a refreshing and a relaunching. What we have depended on all the years is basically that people know the product and they love it.
“We have a syndrome with Windmill where we assume that generation to generation will accept and acknowledge and love Windmill the same way, but that’s not happening.
What we have to do now is try and attract that new consumer while maintaining the ones we have and that is the formula we have to use,” Miller said. (Green Bananas Media)