Paradise Foods has seen over 30% growth over the past six months and its future looks even brighter. James Rice, Group CEO of Papua New Guinea’s oldest food manufacturing company, spoke with Business Advantage PNG to explain why.
Over a year has gone by since James Rice joined the Paradise Foods family as Group CEO. Hailing from the US and with vast experience in the food industry, Rice had a simple idea in mind – ‘to double the business for these five categories [oil, water, snacks, ice-cream and biscuits; and later on he included a sixth category, chocolate] in the next three years.’
Although this year has been challenging for almost every industry given the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company, Rice says, ‘has turned around and we are no longer in a loss situation. Sales for the first half of 2020 are 31 per cent over the first half of 2019, and the company is looking to ending the full year on an exciting note. We are now looking forward and planning significant growth investments starting in 2021.’
‘We will buy over six per cent of the country’s cocoa beans.’
The state of emergency and lockdown declared in PNG in March and the second lockdown in Port Moresby during June did not have a negative effect on the company because, as the economic times toughened, Papua New Guineans ‘turned to affordable brands they trust, like ours’, says Rice.
To keep up with the demand, Rice says Paradise Foods has been running 24/7 since March. The only interruptions have been illegal roadblocks in the Highlands and some difficulties getting employees to and from work when there was no public transport available.
In May this year, Paradise Foods signed a partnership agreement with the Australian-funded Market Development Facility (MDF) to help improve production of alkalized cocoa products. The MDF committed to help the Queen Emma Chocolate Company, a subsidiary of Paradise Foods, with the expansion of its processing facility.
‘We are a small chocolate producer on the world scale,’ says Rice. ‘But we proudly buy our beans from 2000 local small-scale farmers across PNG.’
Queen Emma chocolate is made of 100 per cent PNG cocoa beans and, as the brand continues to expand, the number of farmers selling cocoa beans to Paradise Foods is set to increase. Rice says that there are plans to grow Queen Emma twenty-fold by the end of next year.
‘We will buy over six per cent of the country’s cocoa beans,’ he says.
‘Absenteeism is less than one per cent and our turnover rate is almost zero per cent. These are numbers other employers cannot believe we have.’
To use the words used in one of its recent social media posts, the company sees ‘a great opportunity to export the brand and become the country’s first global brand’.
Last year, Paradise Foods became the first non-government employer in PNG to create a full-time chaplain role. Pastor Israel Arua became the company’s inaugural Chaplain.
The prayer and devotion sessions that he runs before the shifts have helped the company have ‘happy and engaged employees,’ Rice believes. But having a Chaplain has done more than boost the morale of all employees. Rice says that ‘absenteeism in less than one per cent and our turnover rate is almost zero per cent. These are numbers other employers cannot believe we have.
‘Being a Christian company in a Christian country is the right thing to do, and our business performance proves it. My employees will tell you: the company belongs to the people, the people belong to the country, and the country belongs to God.’
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