Sunity: Why Prestige Holdings should change tack for our economy’s sake

Nobody has probably delved deeper into our forbidden desires for salt and fats than the people who run Prestige Holdings.

Certainly, nobody has been more greatly rewarded for understanding what tickles our hunger hormones and sends them hunting for salt soaked in oil, slathered over chicken, seasoned in dough and sprinkled over sticks of compressed potato.

Photo: KFC advertises a family meal. (Courtesy YouTube)
Photo: KFC advertises a family meal.
(Courtesy YouTube)

With sales approaching TT$1 billion there’s no doubt that those folks at Prestige Holdings know us from the inside out, from gullet to wallet, so to speak.

They may even be on first-name basis with the gremlins in our ghrelin, the hormone that sends hunger messages rushing up from the stomach to the hypothalamus region of our brain, asking, like Oliver Twist: Please, sir, I want some more.

Understanding the psychology behind the Trini appetite has given Prestige Holdings virtual domination over the T&T fast food market and chunks of other parts of the Caribbean. With a combined total of just over 110 outlets operating under the American franchise flags of KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and TGI Fridays, the Fast Food Republic of PH is doing well enough, thank you, to waltz past such plebian concerns as the shortage of foreign exchange.

Amid clarion calls to save US dollars by buying local, Prestige has the comfortable wherewithal to press ahead with the purchase of yet another US franchise, the Starbucks coffee chain.

Photo: Starbucks is coming to Trinidad.
Photo: Starbucks is coming to Trinidad.

So yes, there’s no disputing that the people who really run things on the fast food highway—running one-way from the US to T&T—are the 11 men and three women who direct and manage Prestige Holdings. Which is why they might be the natural candidate for tackling T&T’s elusive quest to plant some T&T food brands in the land of the stars and stripes.

With the accumulation of food industry expertise, market savvy and financial profits, who could be better positioned for the challenge of building the fast food highway in the other direction? With all the business cred to their names, how could these entrepreneurs fail?

Certainly, there is no lack of inspiration in T&T to fuel the dreams on which PH’s global brands were built.

Turn any corner and you’ll find two siblings like Dan and Frank Carney who, as the story goes, borrowed US$600 from their mother to start a little pizza shop in Kansas 58 years ago. Today, that US$600 has been parlayed into the global Pizza Hut empire of over 11,000 outlets with total revenues of over US$1 billion.

Or the teenage farm boy, Harland Sanders, who sold meals at his own dining table before launching the fried chicken franchise known today as KFC with revenues approaching US$25 billion.

Photo: Actor Darrell Hammond plays KFC founder Colonel Sanders.
Photo: Actor Darrell Hammond plays KFC founder Colonel Sanders.

Yes, our people, too, have the impulse to turn to fast food as an income solution and business opportunity.

In every generation, entire families have been carried on the weight of roast corn on a coal pot, doubles in a tray and fried bake dished out from car trunks. Why they haven’t made the breakthroughs of the Carneys and Colonels is the piece of the puzzle most in need of inquiry and understanding.

Perhaps, the Executive MBAs streaming out of UWI’s Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business can shed light on such matters of high socio-economic complexity.

For now, though, as franchise holders-in-chief in Fast Food T&T, it is only reasonable, even fair, that Prestige Holdings be handed the challenge of building a great T&T fast food franchise to conquer the world. All they have to do is figure out how to loop the highway and reverse the franchise traffic so that it moves from, not just there to here, but from here to there.

For T&T’s biggest name in food franchising this should be no big thing really, and a whole lot more exciting than implementing someone else’s business ideas lock, stock and barrel about everything from colour combinations to logo, ads, recipes and menus. Outside of money, where’s the thrill in that?

Imagine the fun to be had in just doing the product and market research alone. Which Trinbagonian fast food will have the best legs to walk the world and colonise the global palate?

Photo: Doubles are a popular Trinidad and Tobago snack.
Photo: Doubles are a popular Trinidad and Tobago snack.

Will it be roti or doubles, or shark and bake? Or crab and dumpling or sada with choka? Or barbecued pig tail or macaroni pie? Or this food, or that?

Is there room for an entire Trini buffet, or just enough space for T&T pepper sauce?

The simple point here is that the business sector must demand more of itself and accept its share of responsibility for restructuring the economy. This cannot be the job of government alone, nor should it fall disproportionately on the small army of people working at cottage industry level in agriculture, agro-industry and the creative sector to change the direction of our trade with the world.

It is hard to see how business serves even its own interest when that interest is tied to a fundamentally unsustainable economic model based on the wasting natural resource of oil and gas.

Photo: Prestige Holdings CEO Charles Pashley (left), T&T Pizza Hut vice-president Navin Maharaj (centre) and Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce president Richie Sookhai. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Prestige Holdings CEO Charles Pashley (left), T&T Pizza Hut vice-president Navin Maharaj (centre) and Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce president Richie Sookhai.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

So, people of Prestige, how about it?

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  1. Ms. Maharaj provides another well thought out perspective on one of our favorite T&T pastimes: fast food.

    However Ms. Maharaj has missed one relevant point.

    Prestige fast food is not just a direct copy of the fare served at the restaurants in the developed world.

    Has Ms. Maharaj tried KFC in America and compared it to the KFC on Independence Square? I’ll wager she has not.

    But most people who have can tell you that the Ind Sq version of KFC is superior to that in the United States.

    Why is that? Prestige Holdings, for all its sins of importing a foreign food franchise, has subtly altered the presentation and recipe of KFC to the Trinidadian palate.

    That is the real genius of Prestige Holdings. Subtly altering a foreign franchise’s guidelines to appeal to the local palate, yet staying within the guidelines of the franchisor.

    And why, in Newsday’s opinion, the Independence Sq branch of KFC is one of the most profitable in the world.,29951.html

  2. I thought Sunity was asking that PH apply the processes to market and make a sucees of Trini fast food. Let us as members of the public help along the way. More power to Bake and Shark and Doubles!!

  3. sad how everyone wants local products and local this..yet when time 2get sponsors for anything them same local getting they broke no ass an never ha money..but cud over charge an over work people just 2 full they pocket!!!…..when local companies get their act together an realize is not bout being patriotic to there products and supporting it..buts a two way street!! when local companies start giving back an supporting the communities that help them an uplift them..they we go start with this Support Local Campaign!! and if anyone say about Local companies do infact do!! they do it as Brand awareness not Brand supporting our communities that help us where we are!!! …

    • So its fine to poison us as long as you sponsor sports and culture?
      So is fine to create a national health crisis as long as you give back? Give back what?
      Are our body, lives, souls and future only worth a few sponsorship dollars?

  4. Sunity

    Your contribution is well received, for those who believe that KFC, Ruby Tuesday, Pizza Hut etc which are either fast food or causal diners in the USA are built on some brilliant business plan you are delusional. This is pure science on what the human body and mind become addicted to, their business model is no different than what the tobacco companies have done for years. Of course they have top notch marketing firms, incentives, and pricing but its all about designer food. The market reality is that American’s have recognized the deadly relationship between these foods and lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and various forms of cancer so they are decreasing consumption. With shrinking market share in the USA, Europe not a viable option these companies are targeting developing world and Asia for growth markets. The other head of the double headed dragon is that pharmaceutical companies follow the same growth model, so look for extensive dialysis, blood pressure and cholesterol drugs expansion. The irony here is that Americans recognize the long term affects and are changing the way they eat. In the USA, the fastest growing grocery is Whole Foods selling “organic” products with emphasis on items and foods that were more prevalent in OUR traditional diet. The prices for coconut water, coconut sugar, coconut flower, palm sugar, brown rice, yams, sweet potato are remarkable. HBO documentaries like “The Weight of the Nation” highlighting the scientific reasons that these foods are so addictive, former New York Mayor Bloomberg tried to make a law banning super sized drinks. All of this because the science labs that design these foods make you addicted to them, it has nothing to do with taste. In fact, the foods are designed to hide taste of the food. Whenever in the history of our Republic have you seen so many fat children, its not Prestige its POISON. This is should be our NUMBER 1 economic concern because 2 generations from now a massive portion of our GDP will have to be dedicated for health care for the consumers of these foods.

  5. This will be determined by the consumer. PH can only do what their customers allow them to.

  6. Not into coffee so won’t be patronizing them. I was one of the few that celebrated when Mc Donalds close down some years ago only to see them return. I prefer Royal Castle to KFC (service and standard seriously dropping though) prefer local fruits any day (but why are they more expensive than apples, pear, grapes et al?) Most things like this are overrated and just create needs that don’t normally exist. Also many people want to feel more important than others.

  7. Frankly, I find they are overrated.

  8. We don’t need Starbuck period. There goes our already depleted foreign reserves.

  9. Sunity I have great respect for your opinion columns but this one is off point. The success of prestige holdings franchises is based on the processes of the biz n not the product that you imply. You think that re appeal us based on fat sugar n other food ingredients which certainly have addictive attributes to the average consumer. However tge success is really in the processes which meets customer expectations everytime. The prestige group sells the product at the expected price presentation time n taste most everytime n that is why they get repeat biz. We don’t have to reinvent any recipes that would attract the pallette – are you kidding me; our food is multiple n phenomenal in taste. What we lack is the discipline to get the processes right every time and for a long time. Don’t hate the player sunity; hate the game. Until we stop romanticizing our indiscipline; the wealthy n entrepreneurial will continue to import the processes of franchises n exploit our weakness n make billions. Don’t hate them for it as we give them permission everytime a snack box is bought.

    • I don’t understand what the argument is against promoting local cuisine though.
      Can you be clearer on that?

    • I was suggesting that we already have the tastiest and varied cusisine n

    • in Trinidad so that the product is already available. What is lacking is the process to get the product to the customer and to repeatable standards that would satisfy the customer every time. That is where US franchises have their value and where generally the TT food industry is not focusing on. Save and accept of course someone like Mario Sabga Aboud who has modelled Rituals on Starbucks, Pizza boys on Dominoes etc and Church’s chicken on KFC etc. Mario gets it and that is why he’s in Trinidad, St. Lucia, St. Kitts etc etc and paying no royalties to Starbucks thank you very much.

    • And Mario is probably a net foreign exchange earner with the franchises in the Caribbean so he’s able to fund his US payables out of his US earnings in the Caribbean. Sunity needs to do a follow up piece on Mario and his businesses as he is alrady doing exactly what she is asking to be done. I will never forget the image of Mario Sabga aboud selling hot dogs on Pigeon Point beach from a cart to all who would buy just cause he wanted to test the market and gauge product acceptance and market potential. That is Trinidadian innovation and entrepreneurship to be admired and reproduced.

    • What Sunity could ask Mario is if he can now take Trinidad cuisine coupled with his acquired expertise in processes of the fast food service industry that he currently uses and add it to the menus on Rituals, Pizza Boys and Church’s chicken. Then we would not only export our entrepreneurship in the fast food industry but also our indigenous cuisine for global exposure. Do you know that rotis are on the menu in Chefettes in Barbados alongside chicken and chips and hamburgers?

  10. Why not start a gourmet coffee chain of locally grown beans.

  11. this is at a time when we are trying to promote local….. but i agree with Janine low ..why cannot we export local stuff?

  12. This is an incredibly thought provoking article. And you know what, why can’t we export our own franchises?

  13. We need new artwork to advance mankind

  14. ..And nothing makes exploitation easier than the exploiter convincing the exploited that he is on their side and working in their interest..

  15. the poor got no part to play in the scheme of things…totally divorced from the actual political,socio-economic activities of the country

  16. lasana,under this political instrument,the strongest rule society…the true essence of inequality

  17. The irony is our chambers of commerce probably filled with such “innovative” businessmen.
    While many of the real entrepreneurs could barely get an appointment for a proper loan.

  18. meanwhile the non-elitists are waiting in line to replace the elitists

  19. the open market system is abyssmal just as the multi-party system…the strongest rules society…no socialization and indiginization whatsoever

  20. ..Black masks, White skins. Fanon..

  21. the mantra is…everything from an imperial nation good,hence the reason,its easy for a colonial backyard like trinbago to be a dumping ground

  22. There is a tinge of self-hate here I think.

  23. same as the master-servant relationship

  24. I’ll try them but already have my coffee place

  25. ..Trini thinks if it from “Fareign” it better by definition..

  26. The thing is Trinis obviously do enjoy local cuisine. Do we abandon local food when our wallet is fat? Or we just don’t respect it enough to put it on par with foreign food?

  27. ..You better believe Prestige knows Trini taste. And I refer not only to oir collective palate but to our deep seated desire to become someone else by consuming their foods, their brands, their culure. Trini also longs to be “VIP”. To separate from “the locals” and other inferiors. So Starbucks will enter Trini with their over priced products. And I fully expect them to be a roaring success. F*#^ recession. We could all have yet another taste of America right here. Abandon all hope..

  28. Sunity Maharaj, another great article from a beautiful mind. In addition, while you spoke vicariously about it, their contribution to the prevalence and cost of non-communicable disease in the Caribbean, adds yet another indigenous disadvantage.

  29. So who would be with me to dress up and go to a nice restaurant with doubles and breadfruit oil down and stuff on the menu. Served not as street food but with all the pizzazz of ribs at Ruby Tuesday or hot wings at Town?

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