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Commentary: Did Neal and Massey Group save CFL?
Published on January 6, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Melanius Alphonse

Just about six months after the purchase of GL Food Market by Saint Lucia’s main supermarket chain, operated by Consolidated Foods Ltd (CFL), Neal & Massey Group has acquired a 60% shareholding in CFL, with the remaining 40% in local hands of Gablewoods Supermarket, JQ Charles and some 200 staff members.

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Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com
This arrangement, which was signed and sealed as of 1st January 2014, has left quite a few asking what does that mean to the local and regional economy, as well as the investors’ interest.

Aside from contrasting theories, the circumstances and technicalities that facilitated the CFL and GL Food Market transaction, one thing is certain. It exposed the fragile nature of national laws on matters of fair trade and competition, merger and acquisitions, the lack of a robust competition bureau, and consumer protection legislation.

What happened? It is written in Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” In light of such, the government of Saint Lucia had little ability to provide order and guidance, except to be present after the fact with the expectation that jobs would be saved and taxes collected.

Aside from the continuous rise in food inflation, a stagnant economy and the vulnerability of CFL operations particularly in the Saint Lucian market place, this time around CFL may have found “safety” with a Neal & Massey offering that was too good to refuse, while Michael Chastanet consoled Saint Lucia’s minister of finance that “there will be no job losses at all, I can say that emphatically.”

How does one know that? This is quite a crystal ball to have in this economic malaise! This to me is speculative “sweet talk” among friends that lacks substantive rationale.

On the other hand, Neal & Massy Group may have studied the region more extensively than others. And as an established regional company, it was keeping CFL close to the chest, waiting for the opportunity to roll over.

Added to that, the Neal & Massey Group has enormous capacity in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean region and in global markets, with greater risk tolerance and recovery mechanisms; alongside a competitive trading policy and support of the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago, which is showing signs of economic growth in 2014.

Equally, to gain market power requires astute branding and good corporate social responsibility (CSR); while positioning consumers to explore affordable products, combined with a balancing act of pricing, marketing and strategic execution.

This means that clear and established responsibility relative to volume growth, current and future value to which consumers will aspire that fall within the company’s cost parameters to drive profitability are crucial elements to stay ahead of emerging competitors.

Market demand and consumer needs are evolving dynamics where product, price, place and promotion are a balancing act that requires strategic relationships to adapt quickly to demographics and market conditions.

A brief review of the Saint Lucian marketplace will disclose that the globally minded shopper and their buying preference are shifting. The new generation of professionals, offshore day shoppers and the growing high-end travelers are moving away from the mass market products to more premium quality and personalized products.

Neal & Massey Group’s product intelligence and research may have captured that evolution in time to create new market opportunities, and thus revolutionize consumer habits to influence the marketplace.

Trinidad and Tobago companies are making their mark in the Saint Lucian marketplace with business enterprise in construction and engineering, theatre, restaurants, water resources, including their stake in the Bank of Saint Lucia or, in the local vernacular, Bank of Saint Lucia for Trinidad.

Therefore, it is worthy of inquiry what is the bigger strategy that influenced the handover of a lucrative ‘monopoly’ of local ownership to a Trinidadian conglomerate?

What is the value of that transaction? And what are the terms, conditions and clauses of that transaction?

Not knowing that for now, observers are left to speculate based on the political economic structure of Saint Lucia, and the power moves in the political sphere, as to whether this is a strategic move to distance the economic power from the political power play. Such that this would provide a buffer to re-emerge, in more lucrative investments in public private partnerships (PPP), infrastructure development, transportation, storage and warehousing.

Or, is it a scenario and opportunity for better breathing room to refocus and to make timely and strategic moves in anticipation of a wider lucrative real estate bonanza deal down the road.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s business!

But I hesitate to add that eventually the blame game may be close at hand, and that could be disadvantageous to the people, where time after time external forces continue to control the economic future of Saint Lucians.

Indeed, bad decisions continue to lead the people of Saint Lucia astray. And that is not right!

However, it is best that the wise and prudent not fall for abstract nuisance and intangible explanations. Experience tells me that something is missing. Perhaps, the next move has already been eyeballed. Patience is a virtue.

In the meantime, Saint Lucia’s minister of finance will have to use his influence and affectionate relationship with Trinidad and Tobago to help reduce the price of food and energy, and to sign onto a mutual trading agreement.

The common reality is that the Neal & Massy Group purchase may have saved CFL for the second coming. Oh, what a tangled web that Saint Lucians are caught in!
 
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