Our most popular street food undoubtedly is doubles. It is part of our culture for breakfast, lunch or dinner. No other food comes close to the champion of Trini food culture. It reflects our heritage mix: the chadow beni herb, the Indian origins, the tamarind and pepper sauce, the five-channa spoon (for operational efficiency), and the gunslinger moves of the seller. Despite its appeal, doubles have significant challenges, which could relegate it to a super niche status.
Every self-respecting Trini knows the history of how we assembled our beloved street food differently from the original Indian version. Princes Town was the epicentre, but somewhere else on the planet, one might look at this tasty, unique dish and question its relevance to stand up to the global culinary trends. Like how our steelpan got a foreign twist of innovation that ruffled us, someone, or somewhere, an entrepreneur true to their DNA will transform doubles to global food status with high export capability.
Look at what some food entrepreneurs did to the industry to make it more dominant. McDonald has moved the hamburger out of the kitchen, giving it a global appeal. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut followed. Mexicans and Italians probably were upset with that transformation. Starbucks’s marketing model was developed in a country that does not grow coffee; coffee producers are now at their mercy.
The US franchises are the current champions of the retail food business and possess the super bargaining power KFC has over the chicken producers. The fast food giants can create new supply chains that not only give them cost advantages but can dictate the size of tomatoes grown (to make sandwiches), such as Burger King.
Problems with doubles
There are three main issues that the channa and bara sandwich (yes, think about it that way for later reading) faces that are keeping it from progressing. First, the meal is unhealthy; fried food is bad for the heart. When you buy doubles, you buy a heart attack (full disclosure: the author is an occasional consumer). This low quality prevents it from being a more dominant player in the long term.
Secondly, despite your love for our beloved culinary delight, you will not purchase it from any random person. However, you will stop at any food franchise and not consider food safety issues or quality. With doubles, it is pick and choose, and the extended-line test is the only unscientific way to determine quality.
Thirdly, it is like a craft business or better described as a cottage business. The bara is made one or a few at a time, and the process is not fully mechanised. The split pea bun production is a slow and painful process for the person frying (no wonder it is difficult to get fryers).
Doubles selling is not entrepreneurship
A profound question: Is someone with a successful doubles business an entrepreneur? You might say yes. However, it does not fit into what an entrepreneur is. Entrepreneurs do something that separates them from others; they practise innovation. They look to develop a better product or service, production process, or new management innovation as a superior business model.
If a doubles seller is not an entrepreneur, what is that person? Since they failed the innovation test, the only descriptor is a businessperson. Some doubles sellers have done well as those in Debe, in south Trinidad. However, have they advanced the culinary delight to deal with the global trends? Some may say that the doubles producer has unique sauces and added chicken and shrimp. This “innovation” is like adding bells and whistles to the horse drone carriage with the coming of the automobile. No fancy sauces and additives will save the bara man—first slowly, and then suddenly he will go.
Bull pistle for doubles
You may not have heard about an Indian entrepreneur who visited England after a cricket World Cup, tasted the curry sold in supermarkets, and decided he could develop a better product. The British have a love for Indian and Asian foods. Gulam Kaderbhoy Noon thought the refrigerated curry was bland, and he could give it some sex appeal. He did some research to improve its shelf life and taste. In 1988, he founded Noon Products with 11 people and got a contract with Birds Eye for £2.7 million, and later Sainsbury ordered 2,000 meals.
Sometimes, it takes an outsider to the industry to introduce disruptive change. The story of Red Bull started in Thailand. Chaleo Voovidhya sold the energy drink in the 1960s and marketed it under Krating Daeng to mostly truck drivers and farmers. The formula was Japanese in origin. However, the energy drink market would not have been global without the intervention of an Austrian marketing executive. Dietrich Mateschitz worked with the founder’s company and adapted it for European taste buds. And so, a new beverage category was born.
The doubles meal may face the same fate if local entrepreneurs do not innovate. The product is ripe for disruption and can potentially appeal to markets that value Caribbean and Asian foods. However, we take doubles for granted, creating a blind spot in our thinking, as it was with the steel pan.
Next generation doubles
The future bara and channa meal can take several scalable forms. Entrepreneurs can automate the process and standardise the quality and safety issues. Doubles will be made in a factory just as cornflakes and biscuits. Another innovative approach is making a supermarket version with great taste and shelf life, such as Noon Foods curry.
Doing food research to make the bara healthy would put the meal in the ranks of the cereal business. Moving the food from a cottage-type industry into a franchised operation, such as McDonald’s and KFC, could make it more international. This scalability can further reduce costs and put pressure on the channa, split pea and wheat sellers as the chains do. This entrepreneurial thinking is almost like no-box thinking. Doubles making has to change as breakfast-in-a-box changed how cornflake companies transformed at-home cooking.
One day, someone will break our hearts with our beloved street food, whether a local or a foreign entrepreneur; the transformed doubles will not give people a heart attack. We will buy it without much thought about its safety and even get it inexpensively from a mass-produced factory. Maybe even competing with the food retail giants on a global scale. Will doubles now be a Trini original? Perhaps the new sweet sauce of innovation will give it a new life and scalability. However, this new life will come from a few visionary entrepreneurs who understand what innovation is.
SME & Family Business Advisar
Author--Build Your Legacy Business: Solopreneur to Family Business Hero
The Sajjad Hamid column normally appears in the Thursday, but was moved to this Sunday to accommodate an advertiser