As 2015 draws to a close, Los Portales S.A. (a joint enterprise created by Cuba’s Corporación Alimentaria and the Nestle Group) will complete two decades of existence, having reached monthly sales of eight million CUC within the national market.
Currently maintaining a modest level of exports, the joint enterprise is devoted to the production and distribution of mineral waters and carbonated soft drinks, while studies are underway to determine how sales abroad could be increased.
Sold under the 30-year old trademark of Ciego Montero, the company’s spring water is most in demand outside of Cuba, according to Pedro Castaño, the company’s export manager.
“We have the advantage of offering a natural product, while what is produced around the world is purified,” he said.
With two mineral water sources, one in Guane, Pinar del Río, and another in Palmira, Cienfuegos, exports are primarily directed toward Caribbean and Central American countries.
The company’s natural spring water Ciego Montero enjoys excellent prospects for export in 2016. Photo: www.opciones.cu
Nicaragua, Jamaica and Curacao are among the company’s clients, since their proximity keeps freight costs low, Castaño explained, adding that the Dominican and Panamanian markets for water are being strengthened, with exports set to increase in 2016, given that these two locations are among the most important in the region.
While expanding exports implies a significant increase in production, the expert noted, “Our rates were down this year, not for reasons related to the company, but because of market adjustments.”
Regarding the issue, he pointed out that Ciego Montero water can be produced in greater quantities for export, but this is not the case with soft drinks, since the company can barely meet domestic demand.
Los Portales marketing expert, Rita Piñera, agreed that the country is looking to replace imports of soft drinks, and water enjoys excellent prospects for export, noting, “Soft drinks can’t compete (abroad), since the market is dominated by transnationals.”
High demand in the country has allowed Los Portales to expand domestically, and enjoy excellent market positioning in terms of water, as well as soft drinks.
Castaño reports, “We are the only company with a high level of production on the island, able to supply the network of CUC stores, tourist installations, and CUP sales points affiliated with the Ministry of Domestic Commerce.”
There has been a recent explosion in the number of international visitors to Cuba, and an increase in establishments opened by the self-employed, both contributing to greater demand, Castaño notes, adding that cola soft drinks are the most popular, followed by lemon, mate, pineapple and orange, in that order.
“In addition to the large volume produced, and the satisfaction of customers who purchase it, the water we offer is much sought-after within the country for children, pregnant women and the ill,” he explains.
Rita Piñera emphasized that Los Portales S.A. is in fourth place among beverage distributors of this kind, and has potential to expand, saying, “We know we are a sustainably advanced company in the use of technology and with a system of integrated management, which supports security and work hygiene standards, as well as those related to quality, innocuity and protection of the environment.”
Castaño clarified that all components of the production process are not yet manufactured in Cuba, saying, “It is very difficult to acquire cans, tops, etc. which are costly and brought from Mexico. We use many containers, in which we are transporting air, since we are moving empty cans.”
He is hoping that an investor appears to build a metal can factory, which would help Los Portales S.A. and brewer Bucaneros S.A. a great deal.
He notes, however, than the company is no longer importing preformed plastic bottles, since they are supplied practically in their entirety by the Che Guevara Military-Industrial enterprise in Cuba, which has made a great effort to acquire prime materials to meet the standards of Los Portales, Piñera adds.