With a central mill in Laventille, CGA was established in 1937. Today it is the largest and most modern manufacturer of soaps, oils and margarines in the Caribbean. How does an 80-year old firm stay relevant? By embracing technology and innovation
by Jeanette G. Awai, Freelance writer
Published in CONTACT Magazine
CGA (Coconut Growers Association) Limited is the only indigenous manufacturer of soaps, edible oils, margarines and shortenings in Trinidad and Tobago.
Any company should be satisfied with that achievement, but it wasn’t enough for Product Development Manager Gabrielle Agostini. She and her team have been working on the rebranding of CGA’s existing food and beauty product lines. Through the use of e-commerce, social media and customer feedback, CGA is moving from regional stalwart to competitive global brand. CGA’s initial objective was to assist coconut farmers to export copra (dried coconut meat) in the late 1940s. In the following decade, CGA went on to manufacture edible oils and margarines for use in cooking. After developing partnerships with Johnson & Johnson and Lever Brothers (Unilever), they started to produce soaps in the 1960s.
The company has also focused heavily on its industrial food products such as its Masterline margarines and shortenings, which are used by 60% of local bakeries. Its industrial cooking oils are used by leading fast-food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s and Popeyes.
Meeting global demand
CGA’s ability to evolve has been the secret to its success from the start. The quest for expansion, however, has not been without challenges.
In the past decade, the “coconut oil craze” stretched capacity in a bid to meet burgeoning demand. Maximising its longstanding relationships with farmers, the private sector and consumers, Agostini believes it is the right time to pivot resources in a manner which will meet the still swelling market demand.
The 2017 coconut oil product investment profile by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) states that “the North America Region, of which the Caribbean is a part, accounts for US$130 million in terms of export value for coconut oil, that is, 2% of the global coconut oil industry value”.
This same region represents an import value for coconut oil of US$1.3 billion. Agostini cites this importation of competing extra-regional products into Caricom markets, at exceptionally low prices, as one reason why CGA has not yet fully penetrated the global market. At the same time, meeting consumer demand for more sustainable, natural products and packaging is what Agostini believes sets them apart.
Building a sustainable future
“I worked on quite a few projects at CGA,” Agostini says, “including assisting with the rebranding of three soaps – Duet, d’OR and Every. I’ve also worked with my team on three margarines, Marigold, French Maid and Prize, known internationally as vegan butters due to the change in our formulations to match international vegan butter standards.
“I was also part of the launch of the Constance Estate Infused Coconut Oils, available in garlic, lemon and chilli, as well as our latest brand, the Cedros Bay line of bath and body products. This is Trinidad and Tobago’s first all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free brand, made with 100% organic coconut oil from the Caribbean. We have made the product even more sustainable by using recyclable packaging, including biodegradable caps.”
A primary goal of the company is to reduce the environmental footprint of its products. All CGA’s raw materials and 98% of their packaging materials are recyclable. This is achieved through collaboration with local companies such as ACE Recycling Limited and SWMCOL (the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited).
Through social media, CGA encourages customers to reuse their bottles and jars. “We hope one day to have a retail store where customers can upcycle our packaging materials by refilling the bottles and jars to reduce waste.” Agostini stresses that CGA is committed to ensuring that all its packaging materials are recyclable by 2020.
Creating 100% vegan and cruelty-free products ensures that there is zero animal exploitation at the manufacturing and testing stages of production. According to Agostini, this is a key consideration for today’s consumers, and a market-conscious move for CGA operations.
E-commerce drives sales
Real-time engagement with customers and listening to feedback through social media have been central to the revitalisation of CGA’s brand.
The company has not only ventured into the digital world’s existing platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube: its own website includes an active blog and a shopping option. Agostini explains: “E-commerce has really helped us to increase sales. At the beginning of this year sales were moving slowly, but with the launch of Cedros Bay, they are starting to take off again.”
What can other businesses learn from a leader of industry that’s branching off into new territory? Agostini advises: “You must know your audience. Customers are becoming more conscious of their environmental and ethical values, and are loyal to brands which reflect these.”
Caring for the customer, the country and the environment – a well-oiled CGA is ready to take on the evolving future of business.
- Started in 1937 by an association of coconut farmers
- Today, CGA has about 150 employees
- Its headquarters are on Eastern Main Road in Laventille, Trinidad
- There CGA manufactures copra, coconut oil, margarine and soaps
- CGA has more than 40 retail and industrial brands, and recently introduced a skincare line
- In 1996, CGA was recognised as the exporter of the year by the Trinidad & Tobago Manufacturers’ Association
- CGA products can be found on the shelves of most Caricom countries, and in the USA and Canada
- You can “Shop CGA” directly on the CGA website. Products are also available on Amazon.