Terrence Bharath

Angostura chairman, Terrence Bharath, stands in the aging room at the headquarters of the rum and bitters producer in Laventille.

ANGOSTURA HOLDINGS experienced a shift in demand for its products during the stay-at-home Covid-19 period.

Bars were ordered to close for more than three months and only reopened on June 22, 2020.

The company said while it noticed a drop in income from bars and other establishments, there was an increase in income from supermarkets and wholesalers.

Despite the drastic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on various sectors in the economy, the company has been on a sound financial footing.

Angostura recorded an after-tax profit of $141.8 million for the financial year ended December 31, 2019, representing an increase of 9.2 per cent over the profit reported in the previous financial year.

The company is publicly listed on the T&T Stock Exchange and its shareholding was once dominated by the CL Financial group, which at one time owned close to 80 per cent of the company, before the conglomerate collapsed in 2009.

In 2018, Government took control of 29.9 per cent of Angostura owned by CLICO, as part payment for the insurance company’s debt to taxpayers from 2009.

In a sit-down interview with Express Business, Angostura chairman Terrence Bharath said the company was fortunate to see an increase in sales during the pandemic.

“And what I can say is there was a move towards bottles of alcohol that is larger in volume. So what we noticed was as soon as Covid broke, people moved to the 1.75 litre bottles of White Oak and Forres Park rum, and also people moved across to the flasks of rum.

For its first quarter ending March 31, 2020, Angostura’s group revenue increased by 11.5 per cent to $153.1 million, with local rum revenue growing by 8 per cent “as the market acceptance of the new flavoured rum blends, particularly White Oak Sorrel, continued into January 2020,” Bharath said in the company’s first quarter report.

In the interview last week, he said: “The company did not really suffer from the Covid closure of bars as there was simply a shift in drinking habits and where you purchased. But with the advent of bars opening back up, we obviously think we will see yet another increase in sales. It may not be like before, but I think it will get there eventually as Trinidadians are fun loving and we like what is called a lime.”

Angostura, which is headquartered in Laventille, is the producer of the world-famous bitters, which is sold in 170 countries.

Bharath, who took over as chairman in 2018, noted that around the world there were shifts in demand for the product outside of T&T during the Covid lockdowns.

“For example, we noticed during the closure of some of the States that people started buying bitters more off premises. So the bars and hotels and restaurants were closed but people were using Amazon and Instacard, Target and Walmart, and we found people buying bitters.

“Also during the time of the lockdown, people turned to drink at home, or occasional social drinking. So the cocktail industry increased. We saw a rise of bitters there as people were mixing cocktails at home.

“In Russia, we had some decrease and some of the European countries, but all in all I think we fared pretty well.”

Adapting to change

The Angostura chairman said in order to keep on top of the game, innovation and creativity are key and also trying different things to ensure the company does not get stagnant.

“Within a very short space of time we are going to launch two products. Both will be products that will increase our revenue and one of them in particular which will be launched both locally and internationally, will rely on one of our local agricultural industries.

“One of the things of that product is it will have a connection to our agricultural industry and we are not going to stop there, we will keep innovating in other regards.”

Bharath also gave an insight into the hand sanitiser that was first distributed to frontline healthcare workers and then to other sectors.

Just last week Angostura distributed over 7,000 bottles of hand sanitiser to the Ministry of Education for schools in Trinidad and Tobago to be used by students writing the CAPE, CSEC and SEA exams.

“So we have been very active in still trying to give hand sanitisers. I want to hasten to point out that hand sanitisers didn’t come cheap because we were forced at the particular point in time to use a higher grade alcohol than what was being used elsewhere in the industry. So the cost was significant, in excess of I think $1.4 million in hand sanitiser to the nation for the protection of the people against the spread of the virus.

“We are considering whether we should look a little closer into the alcohol sanitisation part of the business. It’s a question mark at present, but is something not to be ignored.”

No lay-offs

Bharath had no hesitation in answering questions about Angostura’s retention of its staff during the lockdown. He said Angostura was fortunate to be in a position to maintain its permanent employees and it did not have to reduce its wages.

“We have maintained rotation where possible and social distancing in our operations and there has been absolutely no loss of jobs. And I want to thank Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) Head Michael Annisette and all the employees, because the last thing we want to think about is job losses at this particular point in time. We are all banding together as a team to keep the company running at full speed.”

The chairman also announced the commissioning of the state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, the start of construction on which is due to take place in August.

“I hasten to add that we don’t at present breach any laws with respect to wastewater disposal; we have a different method of doing it. Once that plant is commissioned it would be something significant for the community and T&T,” Bharath said.

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