Haiti’s history is one of many challenges, from political uprisings to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes and the struggle to bring a stable source of employment and self-sustaining prosperity to the island economy. But Groupe Coles, the parent company of multiple manufacturing and exporting entities in Haiti, is making waves with a variety of products, proving that Haiti has huge potential for future growth in the global trading market.
From leading apparel and textile companies to major market share in the beverage industry, animal feed and dairy products to packaging and even a foothold in the electronics and data consumption market, Groupe Coles is about as diversified as it gets. But it’s not just the brand recognition that’s important to the Haiti-based conglomerate; it’s a sense of social responsibility and bettering the country’s economy that’s been a driving factor for brothers Stephan and Richard Coles, vice presidents of Groupe Coles.
“Groupe Coles is a diversified group, operating mainly in Haiti and producing and distributing products for the Haitian market and beyond,” explains Stephan. “As a whole, Groupe Coles employs more than 4,000 people in Haiti. We’re a major contributor to the tax base and growth of the country’s economy and we’re extremely proud to be a part of this.”
Budding beverage business
As the parent company of many well-known brands, Groupe Coles has been diversifying its portfolio since the company launched in 1989. “The whole thing started with Tropic SA, a beverage company,” recounts Stephan. “Tropic SA has grown over the years from a small still drinks producer with 30 or 40 employees to what we are today.”
Today, Tropic SA produces an array of products touching almost every category in the beverage industry in Haiti—water, soft drinks, juices, energy drinks and more. The company is also the sole franchisee of the popular brand Tampico.
Shortly after Tropic SA stormed the beverage sector, Groupe Coles started Multitex and Multiwear SA in the late 1990s, textile and apparel manufacturing companies based in Haiti, but now selling to markets in the U.S. “Multitex is the largest employer of the Groupe Coles companies; we’ve hired 2,400 people who manufacture clothing goods,” tells Stephan. “We receive the textile, cut, sew and re-export the final product.”
The second Industrial Revolution
Richard Coles, who heads the Multitex-Multiwear SA facet and other divisions of Groupe Coles, says the company has fast become the leading apparel producer in Haiti and describes the success as a sort of “Industrial Revolution II,” for the country. “Back in the 1970s our father was strongly involved in the export industry,” he tells. “He focused on assembling plastic parts –everything from rubrics cubes to cassettes- any type of basic assembly. But after a few years, they would lose the contract due to the cost of manufacturing in Haiti.”
Richard joined his younger brother in 1994 to set the works for a successful import-exporting business that could take advantage of U.S. tax-free incentives and stand the test of time. That solution was Multitex-Multiwear SA. “From 1994 to today, we’re the largest exporter of textiles to the U.S. and we’re still here and growing,” he says. “With Stephan involved in local industry goods, I decided exporting was the way to go.”
Building a diverse portfolio
With the continued growth of the Haitian economy, Groupe Coles continued to invest in other areas of consumer products. “In 2005, we seized the opportunity to invest in Sunfood,” shares Stephan. “Sunfood is a state-of-the-art producer, the only manufacturer in Haiti of bouillon cubes and tablets. Although Sunfood has faced strong competition from multinational players such as Nestle and Unilever, we’ve gradually increased market share and now hold 50 to 60 percent.”
Following Sunfood, in 2011, Groupe Coles invested in Cannex, the only manufacturer of dairy products in Haiti. Cannex is a TETRA PAK operation, guaranteeing top quality long shelf life products to the Haitian consumers.
“We have a small, but successful portfolio of products from evaporated milk to high protein dairy shakes, enjoyed by many end consumers in Haiti,” notes Stephan.
As a means to further integrate its supply chain, Groupe Coles purchased Tim Bar, the largest corrugated box packaging manufacturer in the island nation. “This makes us the only company capable of producing the packaging for our beverage companies – Tropic SA and Cannex,” explains Stephan.
Huge potential for Haiti
Food, beverage and packaging –Groupe Coles hasn’t stopped there: the company’s next big move is in the tech sector. “We have also invested in a company called Surtab, a tablet manufacturer,” tells Stephan. “This company has been in media circuits all over the world because many thought it was unlikely a company out of Haiti could compete with the iPad or Samsung devices. We have plans to partner with more companies in Haiti to further penetrate the data consumption market. The goal is to explore more and more because we believe our know-how will allow us to enter more export markets and offer some of the best products in each category.”
Shipping and logistics
Coles Group also has a logistics division comprised of a full-fledged intermodal operation at the Port of Port-au-Prince servicing the world’s No. 2 ocean carrier Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and the regional leader, Seaboard Marine Ltd., for all logistics needs in the country.
Maritime Logistics of Haiti handles all the maritime logistics with over 35 percent market share of all container cargo coming into the port of Port-au-Prince. “We offer complete freight forwarding, consolidation and warehousing solutions to all sectors of the economy,” Stephan details. “We are currently working at becoming the first 3PL company in the country. In 2014, Transco was created for all inland logistics services with a fleet of equipment capable of delivering any cargo anywhere on the island.”
Stephan describes Haiti as the land of opportunity with a virgin economy that has huge potential. “Generally speaking, we have a per capita income of less than $1,000; the lowest in the Western Hemisphere,” he measures. “Despite that situation we have industries that flourish. For example, Heineken just invested a several hundred million in bottling here. When they did that, what did they see? They saw a country which has an amazing amount of potential.”
With every acquisition and sector Groupe Coles enters, the company demonstrates a successful model of how manufacturing in Haiti is possible and there’s more of it to come as the country rewrites its history.