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Supply the problem

Peter Simmons

Supply the problem

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I have been a long-time admirer of St Lucy Member of Parliament and Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development Denis Kellman.
Though I often disagree with a lot of what he says, the man has guts and speaks his mind openly on a variety of subjects. I particularly admire the way he picks up his telephone and calls the call-in shows to argue his points or share information with the public.
In the information age, he sets an example worthy of emulation by other ministers and Members of Parliament. It is a conundrum that people elected to represent their constituents believe they should restrict what they have to say solely to the floor of the House of Assembly.
The evolution of call-in programmes has been one of the most significant bulwarks in the growth and development of democratic societies in the last century. They are readily available airways for sharing information, seeking advice or speaking directly to the power structure about matters of personal or community concern.
Mr Kellman made a point of great strategic importance on a call-in show last week when he said the problem with penetrating foreign markets was not a marketing problem, but a problem of supply. I know from personal empirical experience how right he is.
When the Government changed in 1994, before the new emissaries left for foreign capitals they gathered at Sam Lord’s Castle and were instructed to hit the ground running and spare no effort to promote Barbados and its products. The message was pellucidly clear. I had no intention of faltering.
Soon after settling into my post in London I invited two of the biggest fish importers and their wives from the large Billingsgate Market to the official residence to sample flying fish fried, steamed and in a fish pie which I prepared.
They were deeply impressed and promised to get back in touch. Within three weeks they contacted me saying that they would want a 40-foot container each every two weeks. I spoke to one of our large fishmongers who, with considerable exasperation, told me that it could not be done. The supply was just not available and local consumers would be the main sufferers if it was even attempted.
When I enquired if their satellite facility in Tobago could not help, he was adamant that there were just not enough flying fish available to satisfactorily supply the local and overseas markets. The Billingsgate fishmongers were deeply disappointed and promised to keep in touch in case the situation improved.
World’s best
My second experience related to pepper sauce. I grew up hearing from relatives abroad that Bajan was the world’s best. When I first went to New York in the late 1960s I saw a bottle labelled “old fashioned Bajan pepper sauce”. It looked and tasted like the one my mother used to make.
On close examination I discovered it was made in the Greenfields district of Costa Rica where a number of West Indians had settled. On a subsequent visit to the Manhattan supermarket the proprietor told me it was a big seller to which he himself had become addicted.
As High Commissioner to South Africa I noticed that pepper, particularly a small one called peri-peri, was a must at every meal. So I decided to take a few bottles of Bajan pepper sauce on a visit. I was invited to one of those barbecues which have made the country famous and I took a bottle.
It was hugely popular. The demand was clear. One of the country’s leading businessmen told me that he would want to import a 40-foot container every month. Great news! A lucrative new market would open to our producers.
So I got on the telephone to a friend who was the largest pepper sauce maker on the island and whose brand was so enthusiastically received in Johannesburg. To my chagrin, he quickly pointed out that he could not supply the market. The volume was beyond his productive capacity.
I asked about the possibility of all the producers coming together to make a Bajan pepper sauce for export. The local market was so competitive and lacking in co-operation even in the national interest that he was not optimistic. Once again I had to report that Barbados could not supply the demonstrated demand.
It warmed the cockles of my heart to meet a representative of the South African government at lunch in Barbados and hear her say she was told that we produced the best pepper sauce in the world and see her lather her lunch in it and take back home six bottles.
We may be the source of some of the best products to be found anywhere. They sell themselves with little effort. But as Mr Kellman rightly said, supply is the problem, not marketing.
•   Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]