Since opening its doors in March 1974, Windward and Leeward Brewery Limited has become an important part of St. Lucia. Distributing products domestically, and to markets across the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Windward and Leeward is working to overcome the effects of a recession that has yet to ease in the Caribbean.
“We’ve been a part of St. Lucia since before it became independent, so the brewery is seen as part of the fabric of the island’s community and culture here,” Managing Director Greg Graves says. “We contribute to the community and are a part of a lot of activities and cultural events.”
The company’s major shareholders are Heineken International Beheer BV, Desnoes & Geddes Limited and the National Development Corp. (NDC). It is the only brewery on St. Lucia, and currently employs about 110 people and enjoys a leading marketshare in the region. The company’s three big brands are Heineken, its own local brand Piton, and Guinness, which it produces and sells under license.
Even in stable years, it is a challenge to operate in an environment like St. Lucia, where a company like Windward and Leeward has to import many raw materials and find ways to operate cost effectively. There has been no shortage of major challenges facing Windward and Leeward in recent years, however. Everything from recession and drought to Hurricane Tomas have hit the island hard, and Windward and Leeward has had to search for ways to cope.
In response to natural disasters, Windward and Leeward has put plans into place such as importing water from other locations to deal with water supply challenges related to damaged water catchments. As for the lagging economy, the company has looked to promote certain products in certain markets, such as launching Amstel Bright in Trinidad, pushing Piton in Barbados and bringing Strongbow cider into St. Lucia.
“We always need to look for ways to innovate and renovate,” Graves says. “We think it is important to bring in new products. For example, right now we are evaluating Desperados Tequila Flavored Beer for the St. Lucia market, which is a move that can reinvigorate the beer category and compete against spirits.”
Around the three major brands, the company has done a lot of work with the Piton brand, introducing new packing and ad campaigns. Windward and Leeward will also soon launch Heineken packaged in a bottle with a clear plastic label. That may not be news here in the United States, but it will be new to St. Lucia.
Although Windward and Leeward is well aware of the growing craft beer market in the United States, its focus for the Piton brand remains on Caribbean markets. Part of this is related to the difficulties involved with producing Piton in St. Lucia and transporting it outside its primary markets.
“Going into other markets is something we look at, but we have no immediate plans to do so,” Graves says.
Planning for Recovery
When the company does experiment, it takes advantage of the many festivals that take place in the Caribbean every year. It even organizes its own Octoberfest, bringing in an assortment of beers from around the world to see what could have traction in the market.
Eventually, the economic recovery should find its way to St. Lucia as tourism rebounds. What helps the company compete, in good times and bad, is the fact that it sells high-quality, premium brands.
Improving operations wherever possible will help Windward and Leeward to maintain its strong financial position. Efforts taken have included everything from water-saving measures and training for employees to implementing an intensive safety program and reducing fuel and electricity usage. These measures, coupled with efforts to enhance product quality while leveraging its status as a member of the Heineken family, should help St. Lucia come out on top when the economy does improve.
“We have the best of both worlds because we operate locally but have Heineken as our parent company, which provides us with relationships and centralized buying power that we can leverage,” Graves says.