Young Entrepreneur Increases Opportunities in Cocoa Investment
T&T Diaspora entrepreneur Ashley Parasram intends to enhance Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa industry with the establishment of a state-of-the-art cocoa processing facility in La Reunion Estate, Centeno, Trinidad. The Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company’s (TTFCC) factory will open in September 2015 producing 50 metric tonnes of cocoa products such as cocoa liqueur, cocoa pastes and commercial chocolates favoured by restaurants and hoteliers. The chocolates, ranging from milk, dark, rum, guava, cashew and scorpion pepper, will be distributed internationally by its British retailing partner Artisan du Chocolat which has outlets in the UK, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Japan. In 2016/7, additional stores will be opened in the Middle East and Far East.
At the launch of the TTFCC in Port of Spain, Parasram stated that the project began 3 years ago and expects his investment to increase to TT$8 million by 2017. Dubbed the ‘cocoa knight in shining armour’ by Mr. Russel Nath, Director of Ortinola Estates, Parasram’s venture represents a private/public partnership between the Ministry of Food Production, the Cocoa Development Company (CDC) of Trinidad and Tobago and the Cocoa Research Centre at UWI.
According to Dr. Rikhi Permanand of the Economic Development Board (EDB), the modern cocoa processing facility transforms the industry from rapid decline to one with increased revenue earning potential. Government approval received for the research conducted by the EDB in 2012 resulted in the repeal of the Cocoa Board Act and saw the establishment of the CDC to oversee the cocoa industry and develop it by increasing downstream products and exports while partnering with international companies for research and development. Investment opportunities such as the one undertaken by Parasram represents a paradigm shift for local cocoa industry stakeholders and enables Trinidad and Tobago to compete on a global scale through the collaborative private/public enterprise effort.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of just seventeen countries worldwide, according to the International Cocoa Agreement 1993, that produce the highest quality cocoa bean strains, or what is called “fine/flavour" cocoa. From a collection of more than 100 hybrids, this country currently grows 11 select native varieties of Trinitario cocoa which is sought after by some of the world’s most prestigious gourmet chocolatiers. The modernization of the local cocoa industry is also founded in pioneering research conducted by UWI’s Cocoa Research Centre, the custodian of the largest and most diverse cocoa collection in the world, the International Cocoa Genebank.
Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company’s focus is currently on the regional and European Union markets. Parasram highlighted the local investment promotion agency, InvesTT Trinidad and Tobago, as an important factor in the establishment of the factory in Trinidad and Tobago. They were involved at a very early stage in the project and provided all the necessary services such as finding the right people in the right stakeholder organizations, providing relevant commercial information and assisting in the overall navigation of the local business environment. “It’s been a very rewarding experience in Trinidad and Tobago” says Parasram. “The level of collaboration with our local partners has been excellent and everyone has been open and transparent about the objectives of the revitalizing of the cocoa industry.”