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JamTeas revamps distribution arrangements; Blake-Bennett exiting company

Now deep into the execution of its long-term plan to grow its manufacturing division by 60 per cent, Jamaican Teas has been thrown a curve ball: CEO of the division, Diana Blake-Bennett, is leaving the company.

Her resignation takes effect on September 30, almost two years since serving as the head of the spin-off operation now called Caribbean Dreams. The change means that CEO John Mahfood will return to an active role in managing the manufacturing operations, as opposed to his current duties of overseeing the entire operation, which also includes an investment arm and a real estate division.

Mahfood will take over Blake-Bennett’s role but he only plans to do so for one year, during which time he will be assisted by two deputy general managers – Jonathan Mahfood and Charles Barrett.

“Blake-Bennett has been working with both Jonathan and Charles for succession planning. That was always the plan. But we didn’t expect her to leave so soon after starting, and so I’ve decided to take over responsibility for the manufacturing division and to continue working with Jonathan and Charles to bring them up within the next year or so, after which I will step back,” he told the Financial Gleaner.

Blake-Bennett’s exit will coincide with the end of Mahfood’s tenure as president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, JMEA, on September 30. He will not seek reappointment as head of the trade group.

“We have a lot of things going on at JamTeas and the next six months is expected to be very challenging to get all we want done. But the good thing is that I can now spend the time [on the business], since my time as president of the JMEA will expire soon,” Mahfood told the Financial Gleaner.

The manufacturing division CEO’s pending exit is happening during a period of fundamental changes at the company that produces the Tetley tea brand under licence.

Jamaican Teas is in the middle of construction of a new home in Temple Hall, St Andrew, which will double its current plants located in the heart of Kingston. The company is also restructuring its distribution arrangements that have now been outsourced to two large companies – Wisynco Group in Jamaica and Alston Marketing Company Limited, or AMCO, in Trinidad & Tobago – to handle the growing volumes of product it sells.

The company makes teas under the Tetley label as well as teas, soups and dry spices under its proprietary brand Caribbean Dreams.

“The company that handled our distribution in Trinidad was very small,” said Mahfood. “They did a good job given the limited staff complement and I think they took us as far they could. Our distribution arrangement in Jamaica was with a different company, but the story is relatively the same,” he said.

AMCO, which is a member of the Ansa McAL group of companies, has been appointed as exclusive distributor in Trinidad for the Caribbean Dreams and Tetley products, effective September 25.

Wisynco Group will become exclusive distributor for the brands in Jamaica. Under the agreement, Wisynco will market and distribute the Caribbean Dreams and Tetley tea portfolios along with select grocery items under the Caribbean Dreams brand, JamTeas has said.

Wisynco is one of Jamaica’s largest distribution companies representing a multiplicity of local and international brands, while Ansa McAL is one of the largest conglomerates in the Caribbean region with revenues of over US$1 billion.

“For AMCO, we feel that with their depth of sales team and resources they will be able to take us another level, possibly doubling our sales in that market,” said Mahfood.

“In Jamaica we are pretty good at the wholesale trade and the larger supermarkets, but we want to get directly into the small mom and pop shops, the schools, hospitals, institutions, hotels, pharmacy and restaurants,” he added. “These are all areas where Wisynco’s sales team go directly and we expect that this will help us drive our non-tea business. That’s really the rationale behind the changes.”

Tea remains the primary breadwinner for JamTeas but its other products are also gaining traction. For the June quarter, 60 per cent of its total $715 million sales resulted from the export of teas, soups and spices; while earnings spun from a loss of $46 million to profit of $179 million for the quarter.

Jamaica Teas expects to move into its new home in January.

Amid the changes, Mahfood said the company continues to work on the spin-off of manufacturing division into newly created subsidiary Caribbean Dream Limited, which will be listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

The new company was expected to become operational around March of this year, but JamTeas is still awaiting regulatory approvals from the Jamaican authorities.

“Until that happens we can’t do the spin-off; and then we want to operate for six to nine months as a separate organisation before we do the listing,” he said.

Mahfood expects to have the two regulatory hurdles cleared before year end.

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