SUGAR ON TOP

Panama 2018 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jaime Rivera, CEO of Grupo Calesa, on main business lines, exports, and high-tech agriculture trends.

Jaime Rivera
BIOGRAPHY
Jaime Rivera studied electronic engineering in Guatemala. He also has an MBA from Cornell University and a master’s of science from Northwestern University. For 10 years he was Manager of the Latin American Bank of Foreign Trade, S.A. Rivera arrived in Panama in 2004 and today is the CEO of Grupo Calesa.

At over 100 years old, what have been the group's main achievements?

Grupo Calesa is the largest agribusiness in Panama; we are known principally as sugar producers. We sell sugar in the local retail market; Panamanians grew up using La Estrella sugar. We are also the largest rice producer in Panama; our rice is one of the top-two brands in the market. We produce animal feed for shrimp, horses, and pigs, and also have another company that sells agriculture products like fertilizers and insecticides. We are the largest shrimp producer in Panama and also have a company that exports frozen shrimp to Europe. We are an integrated conglomerate with about 3,500 employees. The company was already a modern company 50 years ago and ahead of its time in many senses.

How is your revenue divided between sugar and rice, and which markets do you export to?

Our revenues are about 35% sugar, 30% rice, and the remainder comes from other businesses. Around 80% of our sugar is sold locally and 20% is exported to the US. The rice is sold locally as Panama only produces 70% of the rice that it consumes; therefore, we import rice as well. Shrimp is sold mostly to Spain and Italy, though we also do business with China.

Do you plan to diversify the products offered by Grupo Calesa?

Our company was innovating vigorously much before the term became fashionable; innovation is in our DNA and is the hallmark of any company that, like in our case, remains in business for over a century. Over the last five years, as agriculture and technology rapidly converge, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically. We have embraced the concept of agribusiness as a high-tech industry as technology provides us with the means of addressing the limitations that we face in terms of scale and high labor costs. We have allocated resources accordingly, aiming to become a company at the forefront of high-tech agriculture.

What are your goals and priorities for the coming year?

Our vision is to become a world-class agribusiness conglomerate by 2021, with everything this implies in terms of product quality, brand strength, production costs, environmental practices, and so on. We want to be able to compete within the best-in-market niche and, thus, expand our markets. Our goals for 2018 are consistent with this vision: we are investing in people, technology, improved standards and certifications, and new product development. We still have much work to do, but we are firmly on our way.