Local manufacturer PA Benjamin is aggressively targeting Latin America and Ghana as the newest markets to boost export sales.
The 138-year-old company, which has established a reputation over the years as supplier of quality pharmaceuticals, personal care, flavourings and colourings — particularly Benjamins vanilla — plans on doubling export sales by 2020 and is eyeing the two markets as part of the revenue potential.
Today, Benjamins export sales account for 33 per cent of its total sales. The brands are marketed in more than 20 countries including the United States, Canada and United Kingdom as well as the Caribbean.
Director Christopher Powell, in a round-table interview with the Jamaica Observer,said increasing export sales to 60 per cent will make the already self-sufficient earner of foreign exchange a more resilient local manufacturer, positively impacting the economy through job creation as well as its support of local farmers.
Still, the expansion of its footprint is seen as the start of great things to come for the company.
“We are targeting Latin America because we found that we have a strong market in Belize which, although being in Caricom, the demographic is very Latin. We have a few from Guatemala and many Mexicans that are buying our vanilla and our cough medicine, so we believe that there is opportunity for us in Latin America and we've also been looking at Ghana for quite a while,” Powell told the Caribbean Business Report.
He added that it's difficult to state definitively when the company will enter the new markets as it is dependent on the regulation of the countries and finding a distributor. Nonetheless, Powell is adamant that the company will reach the export target it set three years ago.
Benjamins' core products include vanilla, rubbing alcohol and olive oil, which have been a part of Jamaican households both locally and overseas. According to the company, emphasis has been placed on the export potential for Benjamins products, with greater effort being directed at streamlining the distribution and marketing efforts of distributors in the overseas markets.
The privately owned company, established in 1879, has gone through a series of acquisitions, the most recent being the buy-out from the ICD Group in 2000.
Over the years, the manufacturer has won a number of awards from the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, and this year walked away with four awards in the categories of champion medium exporter; quality and standards; buy Jamaica, which focuses on quantity of raw material and labour that is purchased and used; and the product group award for chemicals, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
PA Benjamin looks to LatAm, Ghana
Weeks after securing four awards at the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association Awards Ceremony, PA Benjamin has disclosed that plans are underway to begin construction of its new factory by first quarter 2018.
It's a project valued at $450 million.
But not only is the company constructing a new factory on land it acquired 30 years ago, PA Benjamin is also in the final stage of receiving approval for the acquisition of a section of John's Lane — the road that separates its East Street factory from the space earmarked for the construction.
The acquisition of the section of the lane will result in some traffic changes and as such has delayed construction of the new factory.
“The original plan was to be in there by now, but it seems to be at the final stages now and the drawings are ready to be given to the KSAC. So we hoping that early in 2018 we will start construction,” director Christopher Powell told the Jamaica Observer during a tour of the factory last week.
“When it's completed it's going to be one big property. We are going through a tender process now for the construction of the factory, and we have contracted an engineer who was responsible for designing the plan to FDA and our specifications, and he is also responsible for managing the project and getting the contractor,” he continued.
Plans are that the new building will be completed by 2019, doubling the space of the PA Benjamin facility to roughly 52,000 square feet. The company will split the newly constructed building into a factory and a laboratory, allowing for more warehouse space and for the testing of all its products to be done in-house.
What's more, PA Benjamin is also planning to expand into a line of castor oil products next year. Discussions are also underway for expansion into other product lines, but the company was tight-lipped on the details. The expanded product line will form part of PA Benjamins' target for four new products per year.
Today the 138-year-old company manufacturers 100 products, including its pharmaceuticals line, personal care, cough and cold, infant care, flavourings and colourings, savouries, laundry and household-cleaning products, and bath and body care products under the Body Collections brand. While the company did not disclose its production capacity, it is understood that the total product number is doubled to facilitate different sizes to meet consumer demand.
Over the years, PA Benjamin has established a reputation as a supplier for vanilla and rubbing alcohol. Technical Manager Gabrielle Andrade, in explaining why the company has become the household brand for many Jamaicans locally and overseas, said it is based on the extensive research done by the company to understand market needs.
“We conduct a market analysis looking at what products are out there, as well ask about our existing products and if there is something else that the customers would like to see from that line. Once all that information is gathered, we start the feasibility study to determine if it will make sense to produce it and then, based on that, we start developing the formulation. If what we develop is stable, we conduct a market test,” she told the Business Observer.
“The labellings and designs will come after, but with that we take into consideration how do people respond to the images. We were looking at something as simple as flavouring and what type of colours people expect to see. Something like vanilla, which traditionally you may think of as white, the bean itself is brown and Jamaicans are so used to seeing that colour,” Andrade continued.
All products manufactured at the company's factory are made to conform to British and United States pharmacopoeia standards and in-house standards. Its laboratory is capable of performing microbiological analytical tests and currently conducts approximately 80 per cent of product-testing activity in-house.
With the new facility PA Benjamin will not only double production capacity, but also should increase the number of people it employs by at least 40 per cent, moving from its current number of 85 employees to roughly 120 people.
“We believe that with the new facility we will be able to experience the true potential of PA Benjamin. Many times we have received orders, but because of constraints we have not been able to meet those demands. We are confident we can meet those orders once everything is in place,” Powell said.
The Benjamins brand is currently marketed in more than 20 countries, including the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and the Caribbean, with export sales accounting for approximately 33 per cent of total sales. Locally, the products are sold to two major distributors — T Geddes Grant and Facey Commodity Ltd — for distribution into wholesales, supermarkets and pharmacies, while internationally the company secures distributors for each market.
The privately owned company recently named Latin America and Ghana as two of its newest targets as it seek to double revenue from exports.
PA Benjamin Thinks Big
The P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company said it hopes to release at least four new products per year, having achieved ISO 9001:2008 certification.
The National Certification Body of Jamaica (NCBJ) granted the certification on July 18, making P.A. Benjamin the first company to gain certification of the pharmaceutical code.
"ISO has certified all of our processes, and part of our biggest thrust is new product development. So it allows us to come out with new high quality products on a consistent basis," Director and Commercial Manager of P.A. Benjamin Christopher Powell told Gleaner Business.
The goal to add at least four new products per year "means that we will have up to 20-30 products in the development stages that, over time, we will roll them out," he said.
The scope of certification covers the design, development and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, as well as personal and infant care, cough and cold, flavourings and colourings, savouries, bath and body care, laundry, household and cleaning products.
The NCBJ itself was approved by ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) in March 2016, allowing the agency to certify local companies.
"It standardises our operations, and the standards are internationally recognised. It will make us more efficient in how we operate because everything that we do is now documented and it's all procedure driven," said Powell.
The company believes it will more easily break into new markets, given that countries typically request proof and level of certification.
"It makes it easier for them to trust our products and it ensures that we can produce the same product of the same quality, consistently," Powell said.
P.A. Benjamin was previously ISO certified in 2002 through a Canadian body. That certification expired.
Mr. Errol Powell Chairman of P. A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited is pictured here addressing the audience at the recent ISO presentation.
PA Benjamin is now ISO 9001:2008 Certified and received this award from the National Certification Body of Jamaica NCBJ and a ceremony held at the Bureau of Standard office on Friday September 2
Seated at the head table from left right are Mrs. Michelle Sturridge, Manager NCBJ, Mr. Christopher Powell, Director/Commercial Manager P. A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited. Mr. Vivian Brown Director General representing The Honourable Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries and Mr. James Rawle, Chairman of The Standards Council, Bureau of Standards.
Mr James Rawle, Chairman of The Standards Council, Bureau of Standards. Addressing the audience at the recent presentation of ISO 9001:2008 certification to P. A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited. Mr. Rawle spoke of the hard work and dedication required to receive such a certification, he also stated that “Achievement of this certification demonstrates your commitment to becoming more efficient, increasing your productivity and accessing new markets, thereby increasing the export sales of the country”
Group shot of P. A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited staff members along with Mrs. Michelle Sturridge, Manager NCBJ and Mr. Vivian Brown Director General representing The Honourable Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries
PA Benjamin Gets ISO Certification
More local manufacturing companies are being encouraged to get certified, so that their goods can meet international standards.
“We are convinced that manufacturing has a huge role to play in the future of this country, and international standards and certification are major pillars in going forward,” says Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Karl Samuda.
In a message read by Director General in the Ministry, Vivian Brown, at the presentation of ISO 9001:2008 Certification to P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited by the National Certification Body of Jamaica at the Bureau of Standards, in Kingston, today (September 2), Mr. Samuda said the Ministry and its principal agents and departments commit to continue working and collaborating with manufacturing companies to plot a way forward in this regard.
He further noted that the Ministry is committed to the ISO certification process through the National Certification Body of Jamaica.
Mr. Samuda commended P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited on their ISO 9001:2008 certification, pointing out that it signals a significant move for the organisation, which is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in Jamaica.
“With ISO 9001:2008 certification you have placed yourself among the leaders of this world in this industry,” he said.
The Minister said it is crucial that the country’s trading partners have confidence in the goods and services produced in Jamaica, adding that certification of internationally recognised standards are a major confidence boost for suppliers and consumers.
Meanwhile, Chairman, P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company Limited, Errol Powell, said the company will continue to place the highest priority on achieving excellence and high-quality products.
He informed that the current certification of ISO 9001:2008 is not the first ISO certification for the company, noting that the entity was among the pioneering ones that were ISO certified in 2002 by Canadian company QMI.
“While certification is for a prescribed period and the previous certification expired, our processes, systems and practices have always been governed by a Quality Management System. This is what facilitated us producing goods of the highest quality on a consistent and sustained basis,” he added.
He said ISO processes will be utilised in the expansion of the company’s plant and doubling of its productive capacity.
For her part, Manager, National Certification Body of Jamaica, Michelle Sturridge, said certification covers the design, development and manufacture of pharmaceuticals; personal care, cough and cold, infant care, bath and body-care products; flavourings and colourings; and laundry and household cleaning products.
She encouraged the company to continue working hard to ensure that the management system remains robust and consistently conforms to the requirements of ISO 9001.
P.A. Benjamin was awarded a certificate of conformity to the requirements of ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management Systems on July 18, 2016.
P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company is pouring around half-billion dollars into the expansion of its complex in downtown Kingston where it has operated for 136 years.
The company needs to expand floor space amid a realignment of its operations to meet international standards.
The project, estimated at $450 million to $550 million, will incorporate an unused lot nearby P.A. Benjamin's East Street plant.
Chairman and Chief Executive Errol Powell told Financial Gleaner the vacant lot at 90 Duke Street will be folded into the company's new structure, allowing another 23,000 square feet to be added to the existing 29,800-square-foot complex at East Street.
But in order to reach its desired floor space, the company will also have to enclose the section of Johns Lane that separates the back of its East Street location and the vacant lot, which the company acquired 30 years ago "in anticipation of the time when we would have to expand our business," Powell said.
Powell indicated that the current expansion plans have been at least nine years in the making.
"In 2007, we started planning for this expansion and had the designs done up. Then, in 2008, the Government gave notice of its intention to compulsorily acquire lot as they had a plan to expand Gordon House to incorporate 90 Duke Street, as well as our current building," he said.
However, with the focus no longer on expanding the parliamentary building, P.A. Benjamin moved ahead with its own plans to spread the plant across the lots, he said.
Amid the physical upgrades, the manufacturer of food flavours and pharmaceuticals under the Benjamins brand is also lining up to boost production capacity to push for greater exports, the chairman said.
Powell said the additional space would allow P.A. Benjamin to grow output by about 70 per cent and create a more modern plant able to meet Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and ISO 9000 specifications, among others, he said.
The 97 East Street location "is now urgently in need of upgrading," he said.
"The physical size of the East Street property will not allow for the expansion and the Duke Street lot is too small for a stand-alone facility. Integrating both lots will give the total perimeter for the factory needed to meet the FDA and HACCP standards," he said.
Speaking to the design options for the new plant layout, Powell said the company initially considered creating an overhead bridge or tunnel between the lots but opted for the complete enclosure since this option "is the only working option which will give international approval based on the logic or production and flow".
P.A. Benjamin was established at its current location in the 1880s. The company boasts that it is oldest company in the Caribbean to have maintained its original place of business. its warehousing facilities, however, are located at Harbour Street and Marcus Garvey Drive, which the chairman said creates logistical challenges.
P.A. Benjamin manufactures personal care, pharmaceutical and food service products that are sold in Jamaica, Caricom markets, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
At completion of the expansion project, it is projected that exports will grow some 300 per cent above current capacity in five years, Powell said. Currently, 30 per cent of production is exported, he said.
"The plant no longer meets existing standards for manufacturing pharmaceutical and food products with regard to modern regulations," said Powell. It is also at peak capacity and needs to grow in output and automation to eliminate the "possibility of contamination," he added.
Construction is scheduled to begin within three months, provided the requisite permits are obtained within that time, Powell said.
Staff will be increase to around 83 to 95 "retrained and upgraded" individuals, up from the 75 full time persons currently on the roll. Another 175 jobs are projected during the construction phase.
Powell also disclosed that he plans to bump up production of veterinary products, with the addition of new machinery.
"It's not a major area for us now but we are going to expand that line. It's a huge market and most of the veterinary products are now imported so we plan to start manufacturing (more) and reduce the level of imports of veterinary products," he said.
P.A. Benjamin will also enhance its in-house research and development capabilities, he said, to cut back on the outsourcing of product development.
"We currently have our own laboratory," said the chairman.
"We do some of our R&D in-house and we outsource some, but with the expanded facility we are going to do more in-house and less will be outsourced," he said.
P.A. Benjamin Rolling Out Half-Billion Expansion Plan