Jose Thomas

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BRIDGING THE GAP
Saturday 06th November, 2010



     

 

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Dear Friends,

As mentioned earlier, the next posts would be a continuation of my life experiences in the United States. I am satisfied in sharing these factual experiences with my readers, as many are in direct contact with me since I started to write.

At this stage of my life I would like to contribute to society, looking for nothing in return.
Even though I worked very hard, confronted many challenges, and climbed many a mountain, I believe my creator gave me all the tools required – the power of wisdom, courage and the ‘go for it’ attitude. The concept of ‘giving back’ encourages me and it is what I love to do. The first question that may come up in many minds today is “what do I get from this deal?’. Let’s think…. “What can I give instead?”

As I sit back and look into the past, especially my business today in the United States with regard to Tastee Choice, I feel very rewarded. Today, Choice is known more as a frozen food company rather than a shrimp company, which competes with the world’s largest brand names in frozen foods.
From where to where…starting with just $8000 in capital to $50 million in capital today.
Friends, you learn something from this, don’t you?

This is where the journey started (as I wrote in my last blog, managing with make-shift dining tables and counting every dollar in our wallets). It wasn’t an easy task. Here I would like to especially tell existing and aspiring young entrepreneurs…be prepared to see a changed world out there, and competition like you’ve never faced before. The basic mantra here is ‘perseverance’ and the ‘go for it’ attitude.

In my last post ‘New York, New York’ I spoke about by-passing the importer, now I saw a reason to by-pass the processor as well. Here’s how:
My first joint venture relationship with my business partner ended abruptly as I was not comfortable in dealing with him. Even though I needed the money, I believed in certain values which I did not see in this relationship. So, I decided to end it and fortunately found another company with whom I started a joint venture. It was again the same old procedure where my Cochin factory used to ship block frozen shrimp. The joint venture partner imported the shrimp and sold it to the final processor. I started to go to the next level when this new joint venture partner started taking me on joint sales calls to see his customers (who were the processors). One of their main processors was based in Boston and I started to make road trips with him in his car. He had a very expensive car with cruise control, high end music system, Italian leather seats and so on. Each time I sat in his car I wished I too could own one!

My frequency of travel to Boston increased and I began to wonder what these processors did with my shrimp. Yes, soon enough I found out. They had the technology to take my block frozen shrimp, thaw it, cook it and freeze it individually using the Individual Quick Frozen technology, which is called IQF shrimp. I just could not believe that something like this existed! Subsequently, they took this IQF shrimp, put them into smaller bags with their own branding and sold it to the super markets, and I must believe, they were making tons of money as it could be seen from their lifestyle.
Big factory, big office, lots of staff, visitors at the reception, expensive cars in the parking lot. I got curious and began to study more about IQF technology. I knew this was some technological breakthrough and wondered why I shouldn’t take this to India and ship direct to the customer.
Now starts the dream - to bypass the processor.

In the meantime, my small block frozen shrimp importing business began to make profits, employed more people and eventually, I was able to buy a car and minimum furniture for the house. I also made lots of friends.

Simultaneously, I spoke to my shipping associates in Sri Lanka and convinced them to begin a service between South East Asia and the U.S. East Coast, mainly touching the ports of New York, Baltimore and Savannah. They asked me if I could put the whole project together and get it going.
I agreed, got the operation going and received a good reward. This also meant a larger organisation. So, I started to bring in my friends and relatives from India and Sri Lanka to take on various responsibilities. Today, I guess, there must be more than 20 immigrants from Sri Lanka and India, who are naturalised Americans because of this initiative.

I also met another large processor in Tampa, Florida who was much bigger than the Boston guys and this plant was owned by ConAgra, the world’s third largest food company, based in the U.S. So, here I am with two good contacts, trying to use these as a stepping stone to produce IQF shrimp in Cochin, India, where the raw came from. Once again, as you know, at this time shrimp caught in the West Coast of India was processed by someone like us into block frozen shrimp, traveled all the way to the U.S., where it was thawed, cooked and refrozen. I saw an opportunity here – twice frozen? Won’t it deteriorate in quality and flavour? Yes, I knew this will so I decided to sell this concept to these two processors by asking them to give me the technology to cook shrimp at source. I came into an agreement with ConAgra (Singleton Seafood), where we were to set up a factory in Cochin, procure fresh shrimp, process, freeze it and pack it under their brand name and ship it to them (IQF Technology). I approached my bankers and convinced them of the potential and they agreed to finance me. This meant huge savings to Singleton and big gains for me, and remains the inventor who brought IQF Technology to India for the first time. This was 1990.

Here we go, idea found and now I was all set to go after it. The story continues….

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