Local food favourites in a snap | Local Business

FOR ABOUT $20, you can buy a packet of choka, dhal, callaloo, pepper sauce or even green seasoning.

The dehydrated product line, which is 100 per cent local, simply requires the addition of hot water and a quick stir to enjoy.

It is agro-processing meeting innovation to do in seconds what would traditionally take much longer.

The new product line, which has been two years in the making, is part of an agro-processing facility that costs about $60 million.

The goods, which are culinary staples in T&T, are being produced by Novo Farms, under their brand Life.

Life already produces fries, sweet potato, cassava and dasheen, which are 100 per cent local, as well as an assortment of processed raw vegetables.

The instant line, which went viral on social media after it was teased at Guyana’s Agri-Investment forum in May, finally hit local supermarket shelves last week.

It’s now being sold at JTA Supermarkets, Tru Value and Excellent Stores.

Businessman Glen Ramdhani, 38, in an interview with the Express Business last week said the product’s reception is “phenomenal”.

“Within 48 hours most retailers were completely sold out. In less than a week, re-orders are coming in. Customers who were skeptical at first, after trying the products are now promoting it and are amazed by the aroma, the taste, and the way it reconstitutes when hot water is added. It is as though you’ve just made it at home and for those living abroad, it tastes like home,” he said.

He said the idea for the instant product was conceptualized after returning from a two-week trip abroad.

“I was missing my local foods. You know, we all have family members living abroad and often get requests to bring food items when we travel to visit them. That’s when I started the process of seeking to have Novo Farms automate and innovate our local culinary food.”

He said that the first products conceptualized were the two chokas- tomato and baigan (eggplant).

“After getting this right, we then went on to develop and produce ten new products,” he said.

The product line includes the chokas, pumpkin, dhal, callaloo, green seasoning, pepper sauce and pineapple tenderiser.

Ramdhani said it took two years, which included the lockdown period during the Covid-19 pandemic, to get from concept to production.

“We were anxious to get things moving, however to have a world-class product with an international appeal we needed to follow thorough analysis, all forms of testing that satisfiy markets to position the products for export to US, Canada, and UK,” he said.

I have explained that the technology used to dehydrate the products is not “conventional dehydration as we know of today” and they sourced equipment from the US and Europe.

“The process we’ve implemented is one that protects the integrity of the product and retains its nutritional value without heating the product to damage its structure. Because of the technology implemented, we can create a shelf-stable product without the need for any preservatives, additives or MSG in the production process,” he explained.

I have observed that several focus groups were used to develop the product especially in finalizing the taste.

“My vision is to have a facility in the heart of the agricultural community that is easily located near a port, as our goal was to manufacture locally produced agricultural products for export. Couva, in particular Brechin Castle, was the ideal location,” he said.

I have noted that his business complements the farming community.

“As a company built on innovation and where technology is our core, outdoor farming is not our specialty. Our goal was to first develop an agro-processing facility that will support local and regional farmers which in turn helps to build our region’s capacity to farm and grow food. We have farmers contracted to grow specifically for us and ones that would sell to us when they are unable to turn over at the farmers market.

“Our demand for crops has grown exponentially and farmers are opting for contract farming as we can guarantee a steady income stream to them,” he said.

When it comes to price, he said, it was done based on demand.

“When we launched our fresh and frozen products, we noticed a trend in the way customers’ purchases were occurring. We used this data to help guide our pricing structure for our instant products. The packaging design was internal. I would give specifics on what I would like to see and what it should look like, and the brilliance of our design team does the rest,” he said.

His target market?

“The products were developed mainly for export with our diaspora in mind as well as international customers looking for a healthier convenient meal option. The demands from both local and export is extremely high, and we are seeking to increase production capacity to satisfy this.

“We are closing a deal with a large Canadian distributor that will take our products to 800 retailers across Canada including larger branded chains as well as in the Cayman Islands. We are also closing deals for NYC and Florida and are currently in discussions for the UK and Australia as well,” he said.

In the coming months, he said that Novo will be testing more products.

“We are going to continue pushing the limits in food production using innovation to bring transformational change to the agriculture sector in T&T and the Caricom region,” he said.

Novo Farms is a fully owned subsidiary of Novo International Limited, a privately owned company which is also the owner of Novo Technology and Novo Communications.

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