Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 28th 2015 Contents ExportTT needs to do more
to assist small businesses
that are interested in export-
ing their products to foreign
markets, said Shirley Vilain,
owner of Rum Cake Factory
which produces the
Caribbean Rum Cake.
"The Government has been talking about
building T&T s export markets and when this
happens it reflects the status of the country.
I know they are interested in building the
export market in all different products man-
ufactured here. I tried to export my product
but it is very difficult. It is difficult to find a
distributor abroad that you could trust to rep-
resent your product that would ensure future
sales," she told the Business Guardian.
Vilain said she approached exportTT in the
past but complained they did not give her the
help she expected.
"I think that exportTT needs to cut the red
tape. They put you on to a department and
when you call, they put you on to a different
department. You go to them and say you need
a business plan, they say they do not do busi-
ness plans. They direct you to someone who
does a business plan and you have to apply
for the funding for this business plan," she
She gave the example of asking for assistance
for the French translations on her cake box.
"If I were to export this to Canada and it
is not the proper Quebec French it would not
be accepted into Canada. They do not assist
you with these things, you have to do it on
She said she tried calling exportTT for
months in 2014 for information on what per-
centage of alcohol is needed for a product to
qualify as an alcoholic beverage and said all
she got was red tape.
"I never got that information from them.
I eventually got that information from Cariri.
That is not really Cariri s job. Their job is
simply to test the alcoholic content and test
your cake for alcoholic content and work with
you to bring the alcohol down to the correct
amount so it is legally acceptable to get into
whatever country. ExportTT should work
closely with distributors in other countries
with Caribbean diasporas and build those local
Vilain also suggested that exportTT needs
to diversify the food products that they pro-
"I am talking about more than soft drinks,
pepper sauce and anchar because that is the
largest in terms of what they focus on. How
much of that are we going to sell? We must
diversify the products that we promote out of
A statement from exporTT on Tuesday said
they do continue to assist the smaller busi-
nesses who have the desire to get into foreign
"ExporTT has a programme with 36 small
companies and the name of the programme
is the Cottage, Food and Beverage Development
Programme which is designed specifically to
take high potential small companies to being
exporters. In this programme we provide train-
ing at a very minimum cost to the companies
who are approved for the programme. We lend
assistance in getting good manufacturing prac-
tices in terms of food safety. We then provide
additional incentives and support for packaging
and labeling and product testing for these
companies who wish to get their products out
to international markets and meet those stan-
dards. There are 15 companies in the current
cohort and of the companies that have com-
pleted the programme, five of them have gone
on to become exporters."
Vilain spoke to the Business Guardian at
Port-of-Spain Bureau, Port-of-Spain.
Up to last year, Vilain said Caribbean Rum
Cake was sold in Toronto, Canada but did not
do well there.
"The distributor in Canada promoted the
Caribbean Rum Cake in roti shops not in
supermarkets or gourmet shops or Caribbean
diaspora stores. It was promoted in the wrong
to get the product back out there. T&T is a
small market and I consider my product to
be a complete Trinbagonian product. This is
more than a cake, it is a complete reminder
Right now Vilain is in talks with Sandals
Resorts to try to get the Caribbean Rum Cake
in gift shops in that hotel chain around the
She is also one of the recipients of the grants
from the Ministry of Planning s Idea to Inno-
vation (i2i) programme in its first year in
She received a grant of TT$75,000.
"Winning the i2i gave me much needed
funds to purchase certain items in growing
the business such as an oven, packaging mate-
rial, a mixer among other items."
She said the rum cake is a dessert cake
which is handcrafted.
According to its Web site, Rum Cake Factory
embarked on the commercial production and
distribution of their hand-crafted Caribbean
Rum Cake in 2007. Formerly known as Quick
Gourmet, the company was renamed in 2014
to Rum Cake Factory Ltd.
Vilain, 53, was a BWIA flight attendant for
27 years and when BWIA closed in 2005 she
decided to look for another career and business
"I went to Peppercorns, got an order for 12
cakes, went home, baked 12 cakes, delivered
12 cakes and took my $396 and bought more
sugar, butter and eggs. After I looked for some-
one else to buy my 12 cakes and reinvested
more money. I baked and I sold."
Right after the airline closed she went to
New York for a six-month stint at a culinary
"After BWIA s closed in 2005, by January
2006, I was in culinary school in New York
where I studied for six months. I started cater-
ing before I went to New York. When I returned
I wanted to package and sell the rums cakes
I loved making.
"I then called Adrian Camp Campins, the
artist who is responsible for the painting of
the estate of Low Land Estate in Tobago on
the Caribbean Rum Cake box. That is how I
came up with the picture for the packaging
and everything that happened I achieved
through trial and error. There are some recipes
that did not go well until I fine-tuned them.
Then there was trial and error from sales to
the layout of the kitchen."
Now she has one person who helps her part
time at her kitchen in Diego Martin and the
rest of the time she spends doing purchases,
orders, deliveries and the sampling of the
product at various outlets.
"I bake on a Thursday, I package on a Friday
to fill my orders. My product is not seasonal
but many visitors to T&T buy it. Also, many
nationals of T&T who return home buy it and
carry it when they go back to the countries
they now reside in. The rum and the flavours
are all part of our country and everything
about the product reminds you of the country
of origin of this product which is T&T so it
sells T&T too. I supply to the Hyatt Regency
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MAY 2015 • WEEK FOUR
Owner: Problem is
too much red tape
Owner of Rum Cake Factory
Continued on Page 7
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