Necessity is widely acknowledged as the mother of invention, and when faced with years of national instability in Suriname Kenneth Van Gom saw it as a time for innovation with the establishment of GOM Food Industries N.V. in 1998. With this small-scale family-owned agro-processing enterprise, Kenneth chose the path of entrepreneurship with the hopes of gaining financial stability and fostering export diversification.
“I was motivated by the constant urge for entrepreneurship and the downfall of our economy in the 80’s and 90’s during the military period. I also had previous experience with the export of several local products to the Netherlands and Dutch Antilles, so I knew that export development was the solution to poverty reduction”.
Under the ‘SISHADO’ brand, GOM Foods delivers a range of food products such as soy-based marinades, barbeque sauces, and condiments which have become a household name in Suriname with approx. 40% of the market share with products being supplied to households, hotels, restaurants and small food businesses. As General Manager, and a major shareholder in the company, Kenneth oversees the daily operations, while managing the staff, but admits that there were some challenges faced early on. This, however, never deterred him from forging ahead.
“Lack of investment capital, limited technical expertise, poor production space, and a modest production environment were the major stumbling blocks in the beginning. But I believed that I had a commercially feasible product, which offered distinctive taste and quality. This kept me motivated.”
Nonetheless, once the initial hurdles were overcome and Kenneth’s business was becoming a reality he began to create an identifiable brand with SISHADO which is a composition of the first three grandchildren names from the original recipe holder, Yvonne Van Gom, Kenneth’s mother. This theme of blending continued into the products whose recipes use influences from Amazonian, Caribbean and Asian flavours to create a unique taste that brings them all together.
“In building the ‘SISHADO’ brand and the company’s visibility, I learnt the importance of protecting the trademark and registering both locally and internationally. I have also come to recognise the value of honest and open relationships with business partners and customers, as well as the need for efficient production and quality assurance”.
In addition to the Surinamese market, GOM Food’s products can be found in other Caribbean territories such as Antigua, Aruba, Curacao, French Guiana, Guyana, and St. Maarten. Within the European market, commodities are exported to Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.
“We targeted international markets where there are major concentrations of Surinamese and other Caribbean migrants because of their knowledge and experience with similar products. This has led to significant word-of-mouth advertising. There was also extensive market research undertaken to gain information about competitors, pricing and customer needs. Finally, we participated in international fairs and exhibitions, product tastings and other promotional activities”.
In addition to these approaches, Kenneth also explored opportunities that were made available through local business support organisations and regional agencies; one such was the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) since 2003.
Over the last decade, GOM Food has benefited from assistance under the Direct Assistance Grants Scheme (DAGS); training in brand development and packaging, food safety, and quality assurance; and participation in CARICOM-Dominican Republic and CARIFORUM-EU Business Forums, as well as the European Study Tour.
“With the DAGS funding, we undertook research and training for the production of our marinade products, a feasibility study for relocating the factory, a technical evaluation of the production process, and implementation of the ISO 22000 Quality Standard. The training programmes, business forums, business-to-business (B2B) meetings, trade fairs, and study tour were also beneficial in exposing us to new market opportunities and increased out networking potential”.
In the short-term, the forward-thinking businessman is focused on the building of a new plant, with preparations being finalized for the latter part of 2016. He is also pursuing cooperation and joint ventures with companies abroad to jointly produce under contract and private labelling. Long-term goals are primarily centred on expanding production capacity, in the first phase, to at least 300% with the state-of-the-art plant that is in the plans.
Kenneth believes that regional agro-processing firms have the potential to maximize their exports if they undertake extensive market research and use the intelligence gathered, and provided to assure quality and certified products. He further added that it is important to invest in travel to new markets and B2B meetings.
The accomplishments realised by GOM Food Industries have been built on a foundation of honest communication with clients, the delivery of continuous training to staff, and the adoption of innovative business practices. Together these qualities are the optimum mix for continued growth and new heights of economic freedom.