15 Jul, 2016
The successful day-to-day management of one of the Caribbean’s oldest established commercial bakeries is no easy feat. The process not only takes continuous commitment, and dogged determination, but also tremendous teamwork, and an unwavering desire to constantly improve the company’s products. These are but a few of the consummate qualities that exist among the management and staff of the West India Biscuit Company (WIBISCO) Limited.
Established in Barbados in 1910 by Weiting & Richter, WIBISCO has captured the heart and soul of Barbadian customers through the delivery of quality product offerings in two main categories: savoury, as seen with favourites likes Sodabix and Eclipse; and sweet, which includes the Caribbean classic Shirley and Tea Time, among others. Today, WIBISCO is a subsidiary of the Bermudez Group of Companies, which comprises the Bermudez Biscuit Company Limited, Holiday Snacks Limited, Kiss Baking, and Jamaica Biscuit Company Limited.
General Manager, Adrian Padmore, joined the WIBISCO family in 2002 and manages a team of 200 persons on a full-time basis, with another 50 temporary employees. Tasked with enhancing the competitiveness of the company in the hopes of maximising its potential he embarked on a series of initiatives upon joining.
“I travelled to some of our export markets and quickly realised that our prices were too high. When my team and I examined our production costs, we noticed that this was one of the major contributing factors. On recognition of this, we went to the [Workers’] Union and had a discussion about restructuring the company. We shared the strategic plan so as to allow them to understand why we needed to restructure at that time and how it would be beneficial to the staff and the company in the long-term.”.
Adrian believes that the restructuring exercise was successful because it put WIBISCO in a position to leverage the lower cost structure, in order to be more competitive. While the company has no biscuit-manufacturing competitors at the local level, their products sometimes compete with other snack choices.
The century-old manufacturing company currently exports to 20 markets across the Caribbean, North America and United Kingdom (UK), with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and New York being the top-three locations. As the brand continues to grow, Adrian admits that there are a number of lessons that the team has learnt, particularly throughout the restructuring process and in building brand collateral.
“We learnt that Barbadians are very patriotic and passionate about their biscuits, and by extension, very loyal to our brand. We also discovered that we had to place quality high among our priorities, because people did not just want to buy our products because they were manufactured in Barbados, but also because they exceeded their expectations when it came to taste and satisfaction. One of the most critical learning points, however, was the incredible level of loyalty that exists among staff. We found that they were passionate about being here, and doing what they do on a daily basis. Most of us wear the same uniform, and this creates a sense of ownership and equality, and it is translated in the way we treat and engage with our customers, from the multinational supermarket chains, to the man on the corner plying his trade”.
Even with the current extensive market reach, there are plans to take WIBISCO’s products even further afield, and the strategy for this involves undertaking research and implementing innovative approaches.
“New market entry is very expensive and time consuming, but for the next financial year we plan to aggressively go after new export markets because we believe that we are in a position to take this step. We have been using a combination of research and resources from agencies like Caribbean Export, the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, the Barbados Private Sector Trade Team and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC). These resources are used to determine the market potential, find prospective distributors, engage in dialogue, share information, and examine the pricing structures and existing competition”.
Adrian took advantage of two major opportunities to enter new markets provided by Caribbean Export. Firstly participation as part of the Caribbean Kitchen pavilion at ANUGA in October 2013 and also the Havana International Fair (FIHAV) in Cuba 2015.
“ANUGA was a real eye-opener. We met interested buyers from across Europe and Africa, and not only did we meet potential clients, but we also used the occasion to reconnect with our existing customers like Tesco in the UK.”
The company also showcased their products in Cuba at FIHAV in November 2015. The five-day event is the largest annual multi-sector trade fair in the country and covers industry sectors such as consumer goods, machinery, equipment, information technology, raw materials, and services. Through a grant from Caribbean Export, WIBISCO joined a regional contingent of 23 firms, all of who had the collective objective of gaining insight into the new trends and opportunities emerging within the Cuban market, and establishing key business contacts.
“We had been working on getting into Cuba since 2014, so when the opportunity came to participate through the display and sampling of our products, it was welcomed with enthusiasm. FIHAV was a very good initiative, in that we were able to meet with Cuban companies that we had previous discussions with, and we demonstrated to them that we are serious about doing business. It also gave us a chance to introduce our products to the Cuban consumer, through sampling, solicit feedback based on tasting sessions, and we listened to this encouraging feedback”.
Since then, WIBISCO has returned to Cuba, with the most recent visit through a trade mission organised by the BIDC, and led by the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, the Honourable Donville Inniss.
Adrian further shared that the support from Caribbean Export had been very timely and useful in increasing their visibility.
“We have created more marketing material, including a company video highlighting our history, products and export aspirations. This is also translated into Spanish and French. We believe that Caribbean Export has been a real partner at time when we desperately need to find new business, and the Agency has also assisted us in the generation of leads within the Dominican Republic through their office over there. So we are very appreciative of the different levels of support provided”.
Moving forward the company has its sights on expanding its distribution to Central America and beyond. To do this will require re-tooling business practices including output.
“We have started looking at our plant to see where upgrades are necessary. For instance, the packaging of products is being upgraded to meet the international requirements and the conditions that are optimal for export. In fact, significant investments have been in these areas, as well in the new innovations. We are creating innovative products to keep consumers interested in and attracted to our offerings, as this also enhances our competitiveness”.
WIBISCO’s success is built on three main pillars: passion, customer-driven approaches, and innovation.
As an award-winning company, WIBISCO not only does it part in contributing to the growth and stability of the Barbadian economy, but they are also a significant part of Barbadian heritage as a time-honoured member of the community. As the company evolves to meet the changing demands of the varying consumer markets, they will continue to leave their mark on history’s page.