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From corner office to corner store

Published: 
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Building a local rum cream brand

Cream liqueurs are no longer being viewed as “grandmotherly” drinks.

While the sweet, easy-to-sip stuff is not the kind of alcoholic-laced beverage a reasonably cultivated booze buff would buy, its popularity is steadily increasing.

This is according to Chief Executive Officer of Feeling Nice Beverages, Gregory McGuire who confirmed the presence of his Makay’s Rum Cream Liqueur which can be found at most of the local grocery-store chains.

Not to be confused with a “creme” liqueur, a cream liqueur includes dairy cream/milk and a general flavourful liquor among its ingredients.

Happening on to the business five years ago as he blended healthy home-brewed concoctions for visitors, the former Central Bank economist and senior energy sector executive said with all the talk about diversification and the thrust to grow the Small and Micro Enterprise (SME) sector: “I decided to put my money where my mouth
was.”

Investing in the small operation which he began out of his Tacarigua home in 2014, the 62-year-old father of two said:

“There are several rum creams on the market that people don’t know much about.”

Revealing how he decided on the name for the business, McGuire, who holds a master's degree in Petroleum Economics from the University of the West Indies said the Company Registry at the Ministry of Legal Affairs refused to accept the name Makay’s Rum Cream Liqueur on two separate occasions as they argued: “It could be someone else’s name.”

Regrouping as he called on his creative capacity, McGuire said it took him two years before he was able to register the business.

He said: “It was only one of several bureaucratic hurdles that causes people to shy away from registering businesses.”

McGuire later admitted the company’s name was a blessing in disguise as: “All of a sudden, I realised we are not going to stay Makay’s Rum Cream as it is our aim to become in time, a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks under the Makay’s brand.”

Makay’s Rum Cream is a blend
o f
Caribbean rum, pumpkin, soursop, milk, select vegetables and spices. McGuire said: “Our unique taste comes from our combination of spices and rums that we select, that is what gives us an advantage.”

The totally local product comes in two strengths—mellow and intense.

According to McGuire: “The secret to Makay’s taste is the blended spice mix which was passed from generation to generation for over 100 years.”

He added: “We ensure consistency and the highest quality by using only premium inputs and observing stringent world class manufacturing standards.”

“Makay’s Rum Cream is fully pasteurised and double-homogenised to ensure an incredibly smooth drink. It contains no preservatives, has a shelf life of one year and meets international standards.”

Turning his attention to the challenges he encountered in ensuring his product moved from kitchen to factory, McGuire said it was now being produced at the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) under a contract manufacturing arrangement.

It means, he said: “I go in with my supplies and labour, and come out with the finished product ready for distribution.”

Hoping to expand the operation into the export arena soon, McGuire said they were looking towards foreign markets in North America and London before moving further afield.

Pressed to talk about the challenges he’s had to overcome as a small businessman, McGuire said:

“Having walked through this experience myself, there are a host of challenges that we need to look at.”

He said although there were many micro-businesses existing and manufacturing unique products with huge export potential, “the move from kitchen to factory was a humongous step fraught with tremendous risk.”

“There is a need therefore, for an intermediary stage which allows for contract manufacturing.”

Referring to several government incentives for SMEs, McGuire said:

“Some people benefit from them, but there are lots of people who won’t benefit from it.”

He justified his claim as he explained: “They (SME’s) are not at the stage where they will make that leap into such a huge financial undertaking for plant and equipment, when they have not yet expanded their reach in the local market.

“I think what is critical in this stage of evolution as they move from small to medium, is that an intermediary is needed that can assist them to expand incrementally before making the bigger leap abroad.”

He said: “That was one of the major things I discovered immediately as a major constraint to growth, that challenge to move from kitchen to factory.”

McGuire said while his product can now be found on grocery shelves: “It has not been an easy journey.”
“ I h a v e heard a number of people complain about how new local products are treated at the supermarket. The local placement is on the bottom shelf and one has to duck to see it, while foreign products are at eye-level” he said.

Accepting it was up to the respective store to decide where products are placed, McGuire said: “That is a hurdle we have to overcome, the acceptance of the product at the main distribution level.”

Pointing to the tax-break initiative whereby SMEs receive a “hand up” if they employ a total of five persons on a permanent basis, Mc Guire stressed: “At this stage of the game where you require the assistance as a start-up, you don’t qualify for an incentive which has been put in place for which government is saying this is to help SMEs.”

He said it was likely the same for technologically-inclined entrepreneurs who typically function as a “one man operation.”

McGuire said: “One of the discoveries I have made is that there a number of government incentives that are meant to reach a particular sector they have declared as important in the industry, but the way the incentives are structured, people can’t access them.”

On the export front, McGuire said similar constraints relating to regulations in this sector had proven to be “inflexible.”

As a result, his desire to break into a regional market has now been pushed back by a couple of months as he can only be granted a Caricom Certificate of Origin when the product is actually being manufactured.

“It does not meet today’s way of doing business, it does not facilitate the small manufacturer and growing firm that does not have a factory space of their own but who does contract manufacturing.”

Predicting contract manufacturing was soon going to become the “way to go,” McGuire added, “You are disadvantaged as a local product as you compete with foreign brands.”

“When the rules are inflexible and you as the administrator is inflexible, there is great difficulty to get things done.”

McGuire admitted while it had been a very edifying journey thus far for Makay’s Rum Cream Liqueur:

“At this time, we need to change the conversation and our taste. We need to forget foreign and create a greater appreciation for quality local products made by us, for us.”

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