Managing During COVID-19  - Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Co. Ltd.

Managing During COVID-19 - Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Co. Ltd.

The third  participant of our business interview series – Managing During Covid-19, is the CEO and founder of T&T Fine Cocoa Co. Ltd, Ashley Parasram. In this intervew Ashley shares with us his company’s experience during this Covid-19 pandemic and the impact on business operations.

Who is TT Fine Cocoa Company Ltd.

The Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company is a bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing factory located in Trinidad and was founded in 2015 by diaspora member, Ashley Parasram. Since its inception, chocolates manufactured by the factory have gone on to win awards from The Academy of CHocolate Awards.

Q. What was your initial response to the emergence of COVID-19?

It was very challenging as most of our clients in the hospitality, tourism and culinary sector suffered a direct and abrupt halt to their operations.  The impact for them was severe and detrimental to their future and resulted in an immediate decline in our sales and production. Our response to this was to quickly refocus the business and improve on our marketing and sales activities.

Q. How easy was it for your company to adapt to national safety measures?

We had already complied to international safety standards. However, there were further improvements throughout the whole operation to protect staff and ensure our production continued to comply, and in some areas exceed, the quality food standards. This included reviewing daily sanitization practices, improving production PPE equipment and establishing new safety procedures.

Q. What was your company’s approach to enable business continuity during the crisis and how did it work for you?

We used the quiet time during Covid-19 restrictions to reflect on our achievements and improve on areas of weakness or under-performance. This included adjustments related to improving our internal systems, factory procedures, marketing, social media etc. Very rarely do businesses get time to stop and assess their efficiency and effectiveness beyond an economic indicator such as revenue and profit. This downtime gave us time to refocus, plan and reengage with our customers in a manner that reflected the current business environment.

Q. Do you see any opportunities in your industry emerging due to the current crisis?

I think the changing times have created opportunities especially in home delivery services and e-commerce platforms. We hope these changes will strengthen businesses to be more efficient in servicing customers as well as create savings with direct trade. The crisis has also increased the demand for products and services to be ‘convenient’ for the consumer-ease-of-purchase systems that will be fundamental for the future.

I sincerely hope the recent challenges have highlighted the need to promote domestic food security with the objective of reducing reliance on imports and where possible, more ethical and organic food production for a healthier diet.

Q. What was the most challenging situation your company encountered during the lockdown?

The obvious answer will be lack of sales. However, the greatest challenge has been the wider services we depend on such as food packaging, printing, mechanical and electrical support for the factory. The closure restricted the access to these services which reduced our capacity to service the limited customers we retained.

Q. What does business continuity look like for your company with relaxation of safety restrictions and Post COVID-19 environment?

The future is still uncertain and we will only know the true picture of the implications and impacts as we return to a form of normality post-Covid. However, it is the wider global economic effects that will be our concern especially as a manufacturer and exporter. 

Q. Do you have any lessons learned during this crisis or best practices you’d like to share with businesses in Trinidad and Tobago?

The key lesson for us has been how we use the time during the lockdown in a positive manner. The business landscape may have changed so therefore we must change with it and adapt. The speed at which necessary changes occur will be vital to the company’s survival. Another issue has been the transparency of information to reassure the team on the plans for the future and ensure everyone supports it. Without the commitment of the staff it will be harder to manage the adaptation process.

Q. How do you think this crisis will change the way we do business in Trinidad and Tobago?

I think quality assurance will become more mainstream especially in the food sector. Transparency on the origin of food and managing risk of potential contaminants will be reinforced to ensure food hygiene standards are complied with.

Areas of high human interaction will have greater controls to reduce the risk of cross contamination and speeding of bacteria. In the food service industry this would relate to improved sanitization procedures and servicing customers through a range of sales strategies such as e-commerce, buy-and-collect, home deliveries etc.

Q. How can businesses prepare for the new reality in the aftermath of COVID-19?

The best preparation I can think of would be to prepare for the unexpected because we have no clear idea of the new reality at present. However, similar to the aircraft design industry, there should be contingency planning for a range of outcomes for the short, medium and long term.

Q. What kind of support did you receive from InvesTT during the crisis and what kind of support would you need from the agency post-Covid-19?

InvesTT was instrumental in providing support pre and during the Covid-19 pandemic especially with business planning for current operations and future expansion plans. TT Fine Cocoa has been planning further investment in the cocoa sector and, together with InvesTT, has conducted the necessary due-diligence required.  

Find out more about the business journey of Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Co. Ltd.