Bajan Company BICO Defends Importing Guyana Coconut Water ” There is a Need for it”

BICO's Executive Chairman Edwin Thirlwell
BICO’s Executive Chairman Edwin Thirlwell

Local ice cream maker BICO is defending the importation of 900 cases of coconut water from Guyana, saying not only is there a shortage of high quality coconut water on the island, but that not everyone was satisfied with the hygiene practices of local roadside vendors.

Asked by Barbados TODAY Tuesday afternoon to confirm reports that his company was responsible for bringing in the popular thirst quencher, all that the company’s executive chairman Edwin Thirlwell would initially say was, “we are interested in coconut water because there is a shortage of high quality coconut water, but I cannot confirm anything other than that”.

However, when pressed on the issue, the BICO top official later said his company had no intention of second guessing its own move, because, “I think there is a need for it”.

He also said BICO’s interest in coconut water was nothing new, adding that there was a definite demand for high quality coconut water on the island.

“There are issues already with the health department over the hygiene practices of the roadside coconut vendors,” Thirlwell noted, adding that “there is a concern there, just the same as there is at Crop Over where people prepare the chicken and leave it out there in the warmers. There are food safety issues in there.”

The businessman therefore said that the decision to import coconut water was in response to local demand.

He explained that while “there are people who wouldn’t dream of buying coconut water anywhere but from the man by the road”, there were others “who wouldn’t drink that if you paid them, because they say, ‘I just saw what he just did before he cut that coconut. I am not drinking that’.

“So you always have a diverse view and you have to cater for that,” Thirlwell said.

“We don’t live in a totalitarian society yet where everyone makes their mind up. You can’t force people to buy anything. You put it out. If they like it, buy like it. If they don’t like it, they don’t buy it,” he added.

In the same vein, the BICO boss defended his company’s practice of bringing in frozen dough and other imported items.

“We have been doing that for years. The local bakeries do not want to make the quality of dough products that we need for the hospitality sector, so there are things that people want and we just have to cater for their needs,” he told Barbados TODAY, while suggesting that “a lot of local manufacturers can’t be bothered”.

“We have tried every bread manufacturer we can think of to ask them, ‘Will you make this for us because we can sell it and people need it frozen because if you have a bank holiday Monday and it rains nobody comes what do you do with the bread you bought? It wastes. If it is frozen you get it out, put it in the oven, when people turn up. So there is a need for catering to all kinds of things.”

He said it was the same principle applied to the ice cream business.

“People bring in ice cream. It is not necessary, because we have got ice cream made in the region. So why would you bring in ice-cream from all over the place?” he asked, adding that it was “because there might be some people who want it and they have a right to do that”.

It was James Paul, chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society who turned the media’s spotlight on the issue of imports yesterday, accusing those responsible for bringing in the coconut water from neighbouring Guyana of “undermining the dwindling foreign exchange reserves as well as sabotaging employment within a viable sector.

“I understand that they [cases of coconut water] are here but they are not on the shelves as yet and I am hoping that they do not go on the shelves,” the BAS boss said, while making a personal appeal to Barbadians to boycott the imported food item.

However, while refusing to be drawn into any public debate with the head of the local farming community, Thirlwell took issue with at least one media report which emanated from Paul’s news conference, saying it was “a sensational piece done without much thought” and “I wouldn’t give much credence to it”.

The BICO boss however sought to make it clear that “if we brought in coconut water, we bring it in from CARICOM and it would be paid in Barbados dollars.

“So that is the first untruth,” Thirlwell said.