Raising packaging and labelling standards to enhance product promotion prospects

(www.stabroeknews.com)

In this issue of the Stabroek Business we reported on a visit to Guyana earlier this week by Prism Communications, a Jamaican product promotion company. Prism visited in collaboration with the European Union-funded Caribbean Export Development Agency to conduct a seminar for businesses involved or seeking to become involved in exporting their goods and wishing to upgrade their packaging and labelling standards in order to do so.

The first thing that should be said about the forum is that by putting the exercise together in the first place the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) demonstrated an awareness of one of the key weaknesses of the local manufacturing sector. If there is a seeming indifference to the packaging and labelling standards necessary to meet the requirements of the international market, it’s because many local manufacturers are yet to come to terms with that fundamental weakness in their marketing strategy.

The content of the forum was valuable and instructive and the under-representation by micro and small businesses at the event was disappointing, since it is clear that these are the kinds of operations that can most benefit from what Prism has to offer. In fact, this newspaper is willing to bet that many of local small producers have not yet even come around to contemplating the complexities of packaging and labelling as a tool that can help position their products on the international market; so preoccupied they are with the demands of the production process.

This is where we believe that while the GCCI has already said that it has made little if any headway in attracting very small local businesses to its ranks, it has to continue to do so since there is evidence that through initiatives like the Prism Communications seminar, the Chamber can contribute in various ways to the growth and development of the small manufacturing operators.

Interestingly, this newspaper’s conversation with the Managing Director of Prism Communications Beverley Hirst at the end of the seminar bears out our point that it would have been far more worthwhile if a larger number of small and micro enterprises (like Nature Gift on whom we also report in this issue) could have been at the Pegasus on Monday morning. Nature Gift’s owner, Devon Gilead, a bee-products producer appears to have discovered that he is unable to take any further steps out of his cottage industry status unless he pursues some of those image-altering pursuits that can only be realised through creative and high-quality packaging and labelling.

In effect, what we are discovering is that there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in the outlook of our small manufacturers once their marketing ambitions extend beyond selling around the neighbourhood or hawking a few bottles outside the municipal market. In this context, one cannot, of course, discard the issue of cost. With the best will in the world product-promotion – particularly when you are aiming at the top shelves of the high-profile international supermarket chains – can cost a pretty penny. And this is where the rubber hits the road for small producers. As Ms Hirst put it during her conversation with this newspaper, however, we either do what we must or we get left behind.

This is where, one feels, there is need for both state and private sector intervention. There is, for example, a case for a firm with the stature and reputation of Prism to do more involved work here with the manufacturing sector and government, both of which, one assumes, have a vested interest in raising product-promotion standards and can ‘talk a deal’ on getting it done. Of course, there is no reason, whatsoever, why Guyana cannot, in the meantime, seek to create, its own product-promotion capacity since there is abundant evidence of need for that service.

It really makes no sense in ‘talking up’ the quality of our tamarind balls, for example (the days of the taste and buy commercial culture are long gone) in circumstances where consumers are, increasingly, seeking after those assurances which high-quality packaging and labelling provide. That approach might find some moderate level of success in the domestic market (and even here there is the pressure of having to compete with the high-quality packaging of food and other imports) it cannot hope to fly on external markets.

All of this is being discussed on the day when the Small Business Bureau is inaugurating the grants component of its US$5 million project designed to give some kinds of small businesses a shot in the arm. As far as we have been told the beneficiaries of grants from the Bureau have already benefited from training in some disciplines pertaining to their respective disciplines. In this regard it is to be hoped that the training seeks to respond to the imperatives of high-quality products and product-promotion since one assumes that at the end of the day those small entrepreneurs will also harbour elevated market ambitions for their products.