Laura Superville has long been interested in exploring opportunities for economic diversification in her native Trinidad, especially options that promote her country’s landscape and local products. So when she began investigating the market for a new business venture, after finishing a degree in environmental management, it was no coincidence that she opted to open a boutique winery based on home-grown tropical fruits.
Superville’s agribusiness is called 11DegN, a shortened version of 11 Degrees North, which is the geographic position of Trinidad and Tobago. The name of her company reflects the strong importance Superville attributes to its place of origin. The wines she produces are made from five top quality fruits sourced from local estates – sorrel, pommerac, five finger, cashew and jamun.
“Trinidad and Tobago has a unique environment and wealth of natural resources for producing fruits, flowers and spices used in wine production,” explains the 34-year-old agripreneur. “The brand name 11DegN demonstrates that the sensory evaluation, richness, texture, complexity and vibrancy of wines are due to the inputs from this location.”
Scaling up local traditions
Ironically, it was a spell outside her home country that gave Superville the idea for her wine-making business. She had spent two years in London, and noticed that there was a good market for fruit wines. This observation set the budding businesswomen thinking about her own country, where traditionally families made wine from sorrel in the run-up to Christmas. “I started asking myself, how come no one in Trinidad had taken local fruit wine production to the next level?” says Superville. “Then I remembered an aunt of mine who was good at making fruit wines.”
On her return to Trinidad, Superville lost no time in asking her aunt’s advice and, armed with a number of books and recipes, she began experimenting in the family kitchen. Her first attempt was, in Superville’s own words, “a disaster”. Attempting to make wine from pommerac, she added too much yeast and during the fermentation stage the concoction poured all over the kitchen floor. Her second attempt was more successful, and with every test batch she sought her father’s opinion as to the quality of the product. She began attending wine-making courses and took study tours to award winning wine producing regions.
Long before she made the decision that was to change her career path, Superville had attended a CTA supported workshop in Jamaica to examine how to add value to local foods. “That experience helped to shape my ideas about my future wine business, including the science and nutrition side of it,” she reflects.
Finding the right bottles at a price she could afford posed a significant hurdle, but determined not to be defeated, Superville sourced a Chinese manufacturer and arranged the shipping. At last, the product was ready for market, and Superville teamed up with a business partner to go into production. Continuing her strategy of tapping the skills of family members, she enlisted the help of her sister, who has a background in sales. The 11DegN wines are now available in local wine bars, restaurants and specialty stores, as well as at dinners organised by the food and drink company Moving Tables, which are held on a monthly basis to promote local products. Superville also makes use of social media, especially Facebook, to market her wines.
In 2017, the company sold 1,500 bottles with a turnover of €15,000 (TTD120,000.)This is still not sufficient to enable Superville to give up her day job as a planning engineer for an oil and gas company, but she is targeting exports to other Caribbean countries and extending her range of products as the next phase of her business plan. Her ultimate goal is to run the business full-time, and to move into related products such as sangria, wine vinegar, jams and jellies, all based on local crops.
Jobs and incomes
Currently employing five staff on a seasonal basis, Superville is anxious to develop her company, to create jobs and income earning opportunities for others in the community. “I’d very much like my business to grow, so that I can give other young people a job, and several who are thinking of starting their own business have already asked me for advice,” she says.
The Caribbean businesswoman is also planning to plant her own fruit trees, so that she can have greater control over the product quality, though this will require gaining access to land and taking out a loan, both of which pose a sizeable challenge. At present, Superville is forced to rely on fruit grown by local producers. She has built up a detailed database and drawn up agreements with suppliers, but believes this will be insufficient once production increases. Climate change has already started affecting cropping patterns and quality, with excessive rainfall damaging fruit and affecting flavour – making the taste less intense.
Whatever the hurdles that may lie ahead, Superville is convinced that entrepreneurship will be critical to the future of the upcoming generation in Trinidad, who can no longer rely on the sectors that have provided jobs and livelihoods until now. “In Trinidad our economy is mainly based on oil and gas, and now that oil prices are much lower, I’ve been looking at how that is going to affect people, and investigating business ideas,” she said. “There is a greater need now than ever to diversify, and see what other opportunities there are for young people. Oil and gas won’t be around forever, so we need to think about what will be our next steps, and how we are going to feed ourselves in the future.”