Nateram Ramnanan: Giving Guyana the juice it deserves

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In Guyana, like so many parts of the world, government has been encouraging its people to invest, to take chances and work hard. For Nateram Ramnanan, his success was born more out of a need to make a living than for the love of what he was doing.
He has managed to build a successful family-owned business from nothing. Today, Ramnanan has risen as one of the more established businessmen on the Essequibo Coast, winning awards and selecting to travel all over the region to learn more.
Even as a wide array of his products continues to hit the shelves of retail companies across country and even abroad, this entrepreneur has been giving back, employing people and doing what he knows best.
For Ramnanan, called ‘Juiceman’, a father of four, it all started from cane juice. But, ‘Juiceman’ has expanded and he now whips up a wide array of products which are distributed under the Original Juice brand.
His business place at Grant Berthrum, Upper Pomeroon has been visited by a President, ministers and even lending agencies have been recognizing his entrepreneurial contributions, inviting him for training and sending him overseas.
Ramnanan, now 55, grew up in Windsor Castle, on the Essequibo Coast. Times were hard for the family of 11 as there was simply not enough at times to go around. He was the eldest of nine (six brothers and three sisters) and was expected to play his part.
His father, known as ‘Cane Juice Man’, sold the sweet product to support the family at Anna Regina, the main town in the Essequibo County and at Charity, a gateway to the interior and a main trading area.
For little Nateram, there was no time for holidaying; he had to help his father. Their little wooden home in Windsor Castle had many mouths to feed and there was much work to be done.
While he wanted so badly to excel in school, Nateram had to make some hard choices: he had to give up school on mainly Mondays and Fridays, the market days for the Essequibo Coast.
“I wanted to get an education. I know it was the way out. But it was hard,” the entrepreneur said to Guyana Inc.
Nateram got his chance when, in his teens, he was accepted into Kuru Kuru College, which had an extension in Essequibo, and for one year he studied Management. In the early ‘80s, he was hired to work at a cassava mill in Charity. It was owned by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). Ramnanan stayed there for five years, learning how to make cassava flour and about processing… experiences that would serve him well later.
Back then, as the older among us would know, government had restricted the importation of several items, including flour. The clampdown was designed to encourage local, alternative food production and cassava flour was substitute for many.
It was while at that cassava facility that Nateram met his wife, Parbattie, who worked at another GuySuCo establishment: a carambola (five-finger) processing factory not far away. They soon got married.
In the meantime, Nateram’s father had continued his cane juice business.
Now a man with responsibilities and a family, the restless Nateram knew that a $250 salary would not be enough. He was looking for opportunities. In fact, he was hungry for it.
The opportunity opened up when, while on a visit to Charity, he saw an old family owned cane juice mill that was not in use. Using some money he had put aside, he paid $300 for it. It was the wisest investment he has ever made.
Using a cart, he set up shop, selling cane juice to the many who visited Charity. His wife was with him “foot-to-foot”. It was tough work as he was manually turning the mill all day long and the working day would sometimes go to eight o’clock at nights.
“This was a manual mill that you had to scrape the cane and grind it manually and sell it right away to the customers.”
His children – he has four of them now – would sometimes stay by his parents and sometimes with his in-laws. At other times, the children would be with the family at the juice stand.
Nateram was lucky. With the import restriction, there was a hugely profitable contraband business for all kinds of things including sardines, flour and split peas. Charity was a place to go for these. His cane juice stand benefitted from the crowds.
‘Juiceman’ was becoming popular. The Amerindians coming down the Pomeroon, persons from the Essequibo Coast, and miners, were all heading to Charity. His glass of cane juice and his wife’s cassava balls were a must.
It was in the early ‘90s that Samuel, one of the Barakat brothers who owned a fabrication business on the East Coast of Demerara, met with Nateram.
Why was ‘Juiceman’ manually killing himself? Barakat offered the little Charity man to build an engine-run mill. Nateram was more than glad. Soon, the mill was introduced and the juice stand, known as ‘Original Juice’ started to grow, becoming a permanent structure. It still stands there.
A family in Grant Berthrum, Upper Pomeroon, not far away, from whom Nateram had purchased his manual mill, asked if he was interested to buy their property. “The lady that owned the property…we got along well whenever she returned to Guyana. They decided to sell and I was looking to find a place.”
It was at this location on the Pomeroon River that Nateram started experimenting with other juices like guava and coconut water, setting up his factory. His eldest son was running the juice stand and Nateram concentrated on the processing at this location.
He started an experiment that saw him blending and juicing the produce that grew around his home. Nateram ventured into juicing fruits and vegetables, even pumpkin and ginger, and distributing his signature product to markets in rural and urban areas of Guyana and to a few Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic.
He was recognized for his entrepreneurial energies by the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED), Partners of America, and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) and the trainings started.
He was exposed to all kinds of fora on processing and juicing, travelling to places like St. Vincent, and even showcasing his products in Canada. ‘Juiceman’ was looking for more opportunities. He searched and soon found more equipment to make his work easier and expand to other products.
While his core business was juices, which now included cherry and golden apple, he also ventured into other areas like bottling of pepper sauce, achar and jam and jelly. It was a chance that was not to be regretted. He was selling his products countrywide.
He came under the radar of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Dr. Leslie Chin, whose work locally with micro-businesses is legendary.
“USAID, Dr. Chin, Mr. Barakat and IPED and so many others have been there for us. I thank them,” Ramnanan told Guyana Inc.
The family started to experiment even more with vegetables and the products were terrific. ‘Juiceman’ started going as far as Port Kaituma in Region One, to market his varying creations. Sterling Products, restaurants and hotels are among the numerous customers supporting him. The business has grown now.
“You see, I did not want to remain poor. Our family home in Windsor Castle had no flush toilet and I wanted my children to be educated. This is what pushed me. I did not want them to want for clothes and things like that.”
While Charity has been changing quickly, modernizing with malls and huge buildings going up, Nateram is determined also not to stay static.
“If you want to be successful…there is a simple way…you have to work hard. Never give up. Master what you are doing and it will work out.”
Today, Nateram is involved in all kinds of charity work, something he is not willing to talk too much about. He is heavily involved in the private sector lobbying organizations like the GMSA.
A few years ago, the same organization recognized his contributions, awarding him for his contributions to Guyana’s agro-processing sector. Nateram and his family are now eyeing the canning business and soon he will be expanding even more, thanks to new, state-of-the-art equipment he is looking at from neighbouring Brazil.
“My wife, my family and my workers, are my strength,” a humble ‘Juiceman’ says.
Today, the businessman is embarking on his biggest project to date. He is investing, through a number of agencies and banks, some $120M in a brand new juice factory.
His juices are being sold in each of the country’s 10 regions. With over 20 staffers now, ‘Juiceman’ is not stopping.

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