Jody White, the CEO of Slimdown 360, is encouraging small business owners in T&T to export their products and services as lots of opportunities exist abroad.
White founded the Couva-based company in 2010 and they provide frozen meals to customers for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
"Export markets are important as they provide businesses with the chance to get into much larger countries to sell your products. T&T's population is just over one million people and compare that to the United States with a population of 300 million people. A niche market abroad is bigger than a niche market locally," he told the Sunday Guardian last Wednesday.
He gave some sound advice and practical tips to small business owners who dream of exporting internationally one day.
White advised them to do their research on whatever market they want to get into and to visit that country.
He said exporTT assisted his company by providing training and also financing for product testing, although he did not provide details on how much money he received for this. He also recommended that businesses contact exporTT if they need technical help.
Their products are sold in regional countries like Guyana and soon in Barbados. They also sell to the United States and Europe.
In 2018, they carried out their first exports to the United States.
He gave an idea of his business operations.
"If someone has a fitness goal, we provide the meals that they need in accordance with that goal. That is like a diet plan. We provide all the meals that you need. Lunch for 5 days can cost TT$200 and other ranges up to $3,000 monthly. We also have the largest provision flour line in T&T. So for breakfast, you can have sweet potato waffles or muffins that include cassava flour."
In 2017, they launched a new line which created pasta from sweet potato and cassava. Also, they developed instant mashed provision, similar to mashed potato but made from ground provision.
He said their products are gluten-free and the gluten-free markets abroad are larger than the local market.
"The buyers of our products are largely persons with medical conditions that have to eat gluten-free or those who choose to eat gluten-free. We started doing shipments via Amazon. We sell about one to two pallets a month on Amazon. We do not sell in brick and mortar stores right now."
He, however, cautioned small business owners that not everything goes as planned, and they must have contingency plans.
"We sent the shipment of sweet potato and cassava fries to Guyana and when it got there, Guyanese customs lost all the documents, so we had to scramble to get documents re-done. Also when you do foreign shipments you have to wait to get paid," he said.
Despite the opportunities, he said that there are challenges in breaking into international markets.
"It is not easy for a small company to export. There are a lot of requirements in terms of testing and packaging. It is costly to put a product out on the international markets. To launch a product in terms of packing, testing and legal requirements could cost between $50,000 to $100,000. There must be some qualifications to get into the bigger markets like the United States. Whatever challenges they face, I will advise anyone to put in that effort to try to export abroad."