The history of the East Caribbean Group of Companies tells an interesting story. A local entrepreneur, Phillip Veira (later Sir Philip) had a vision of setting up a flour mill in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He registered the company St. Vincent Flour Mill, and proceeded to purchase some equipment which sat idle for some time. Sir Philip’s passion resonated with local businessman Rudolph Baynes, the agent for the Canadian Company Maple Leaf Mills, exporters of Nelson and Purity flour to the Islands. Mr. Baynes proposed a partnership between Maple Leaf Mills, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Sir Phillip. This partnership involved a share structure of 40% Maple Leaf Mills, 20% Government and 40% P. H. Veira Investments.
Under the Caribbean Common Market agreement, flour production in the OECS was allocated to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Treaty of Chaguaramas, specifically article 56 (now article 164 of the Revised Treaty), provided protection for the sale of the St. Vincent flour in the OECS. Consequently, ECFM became the “Mill of the Islands” which gave rise to the Mill’s premier brand “Cream of the Islands” flour. Production began on Sunday 11 December, 1977 and within 3 days the products could be found on most retailers’ shelves across the island.
The core of the vision by Sir Phillip was to produce the best flour in the region, which naturally required the best wheat. This vision still holds today and we boast several varieties of the finest quality flour including white flour, whole wheat flour, patent flour for the fast food industry and specialty flours such as Multi Grain, Herb & Garlic, Rye and Pumpernickel.
As the production of flour rapidly increased, so did the demand for the 100-lb bags which the flour was packaged in and hence this gave rise to a packaging plant in 1981. Then there was the ever-multiplying mill-feed, the main by-product of flour milling. More flour meant more mill-feed; what were we to do with it all? Well, the obvious answer was to invest in a feed mill and this was exactly what we did in 1982. The company was to spend the next few years expanding its markets and growing it brands of flour and feeds.
So then what was to be the next step? Well, it was a side-ways one, moving from wheat into rice milling, with the birth of the state-of-the-art East Caribbean Rice Mills in 1988. In this same year, the East Caribbean Group of Companies was launched as the umbrella body for its operations.
We were purchasing rice from Guyana and it was not long before we were in discussions with the Guyana Government to purchase a rice mill in the town of Anna Regina. In 1990, Caricom Rice Mill became the newest entity of ECGC.
The company was to spend the next two decades consolidating its businesses, and ensuring that we were not casualties of the economic recession which began circa 2008.
On 11 March, 2014, ECGC acquired the assets of Bottlers (St. Vincent) Ltd. and as such moved into new territory; that is, the manufacturing of aerated beverages, energy drinks and bottled water. This latest acquisition takes the number of ECGC subsidiaries to six:
East Caribbean Flour Mills – 1977
East Caribbean Packaging – 1981
East Caribbean Feeds – 1982
East Caribbean Rice Mill – 1988
Caricom Rice Mills – 1990
East Caribbean Bottlers Inc – 2014
ECGC has positioned itself as one of the leading manufacturers in the Caribbean region and currently exports to most of the islands from Jamaica in the North to Trinidad in the South. The company’s location at Campden Park Bay was visionary in itself, as it is ideal for a fully integrated operation in terms of the discharging of raw materials and the loading of finished products.
Since inception, the Mill has realized steady growth and expansion in capacity and product lines. It produces some of the finest quality bakers’ flour under the brand names: Cream of the Islands, Nelson and Carigold; coupled with its premium all-purpose packaged flour brands: Easy Bake, Purity and Carigold. The rice mill has developed a number of rich rice brands: Three Jewels, Carib Pearl, Natural Diamond, Carib Diamond, CariGold and Caricom Pride. We also pride ourselves in producing a wide variety of top quality animal feeds to meet the needs of the famers in the OECS. Ju-C, a carbonated soft drink that is loved by Vincentians at home and abroad, is available in six popular flavours, along with bottled water and the infamous Village Ram.
With a staff complement of one hundred and sixty-two (162) employees in St. Vincent and 106 in Guyana; ECGC continues to invest in the development of its human resources as we embrace our motto “Excellence through Team-work”.
We have always prided ourselves as being good corporate citizens as we are committed to enhancing the lives of our people both locally and regionally. Thus we ensure that our presence can be felt particularly in the areas of youth, education and sports.
The tradition of producing products of the highest quality and offering customer service par excellence continues to be the guiding principle by which we operate.
Philip Veira was born in Orange Grove (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) on 14th August, 1921. He was the first of six children from the marital union between the second generation Portuguese Benedict Veira and Mary Lyn Veira (nee Gibson).
Philip commenced his primary school education at the Dorsetshire Hill Government School which was perched 900 feet above sea level on the hill overlooking the island’s capital, Kingstown. He then transferred to the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic School located in the island’s capital some three miles from his first school as the crow flies. During these formative years, young Philip planted chives in his home garden and sold these on weekends and during his school vacation. Like so many other boys of his day, the young Philip ended school early in an effort to contribute to his parents’ income. He was a mere thirteen-year-old lad when he left school at Grade 6.
Philip observed his father working long hours in his “market shop” in Kingstown. The young Veira always had the desire to own a business of his own. His entrepreneurial spirit drove him to make this a reality on 25th June, 1942. The 21-year-old established a grocery and liquor store at the corner of Bedford and Bay Street in Kingstown in a building that was owned by the Casson family. Philip Veira was later able to purchase this valuable real estate. The business later evolved to encompass a supermarket and hardware store. He then duplicated the operations in the Grenadine Island of Bequia (nine miles south of mainland St. Vincent), Arnos Vale, Richland Park and Calliaqua.
Philip married his sweetheart and life’s partner, Clara (nee Medford) on May, 11, 1943. This union resulted in one (1) son, Kenneth, and seven (7) daughters; Monica, Yvette (deceased), Audrey, June, Cheryl, Pamela, and Rosemarie. Like so many of his day, he wished that he had more sons but would cheerfully resolve that “God knows best”.
Philip Veira had many close friends who supported and encouraged him throughout his business development. These included, but were not limited to, Sir James Mitchell, St. Clair Boyea, Milton Cato, Bassy Ferdinand, Othniel Sylvester, Verol Crichton and Ricardo Gonsalves. Many of his weekends were spent playing cricket and engaging in his other favourite hobbies of fishing and gardening.
During an era when many businessmen were hesitant to invest in the manufacturing sector, Philip Veira embarked on two business ventures that his colleagues considered very risky; he sought investments in a flour mill at Campden Park on the leeward coast of the island in 1977 and later ventured to establish P.H. Veira Plastics Limited in Calliaqua in 1980. The latter concentrated on providing the local and regional market with a variety of sizes of plastic bags and polyethylene sleeves for protecting bananas from damage during their growing stages. It was around this time that he also established a bakery as an annex to his business location in Kingstown.
Members of his family recall that the idea to invest in a flour mill emerged during one of his vacations in Canada. It is said that he was visiting a business house when the discussion evolved to encompass the possibility of establishing a flour mill in St. Vincent. He is said to have found the topic very interesting and immediately commenced putting plans together to make the dream a reality.
Philip Veira jokingly commented on many of the negative comments that were thrown at him during the period when he commenced discussions about the establishment of a flour mill on St. Vincent. Against the backdrop of a very high level of satisfaction with the quality of the Nelson flour being imported from Canada, there were nationals who felt that St. Vincent could never sustain a flour mill and that the island would never be able to produce a quality product. However, he persevered and was able to influence an alliance between Maple Leaf Mills Limited, the government of St. Vincent and his company, P.H. Veira and Company Limited. That alliance created many win-win synergies for all stakeholders and the company eventually evolved to invest in a feed mill, two rice mills (one in St. Vincent and the other in Guyana), and a packing plant that produces the polypropylene bags needed for the packing of rice, flour and animal feeds. It is not surprising that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines saw it fit to recommend to the Monarchy that they confer on him the Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire (KBE) for his significant contribution to private sector development. He was knighted by Her Highness Queen Elizabeth II on July 27th, 1988.
Sir Philip was considered to be one of the wealthiest businessmen in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. However, he did not keep his wealth all to himself but shared it through many of the community projects that he sponsored. He was especially fond of donating to the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic School and the Cathedral of the Assumption (Catholic Church).
One of the spectator stands at the internationally acclaimed Arnos Vale Playing Field bears his name in recognition of his financing its construction via East Caribbean Flour Mills Limited.
Sir Philip Veira enjoyed reading the Reader’s Digest magazine and often did so while consuming his favourite local dish, the “one-pot-cook-up”, or listening to his favourite gospel music.
During his latter years he used every opportunity to encourage young people through some of his favourite sayings such as “save the pennies and the pounds will come”. He was also overheard telling a youngster “I wish I had your age with my experience” – a clear indication that he had so many dreams that he had not yet touched, so many journeys that he had not ventured out on.
Despite his busy schedule and the great responsibility he had in relation to the management of his various businesses, Sir Philip made time to travel the world. He visited numerous cities on every continent. He loved Europe in general but was especially fond of Germany. He also held fond memories of his visits to Australia. He is known to have derived great pleasure from accompanying his wife on cruises to various parts of the world.
Sir Philip was always very health conscious and exercised on a regular basis. His regular medical examinations did not reveal anything untoward until December 1989 when he discovered a “lump in his neck”. This was subsequently confirmed to have been cancerous. After months of radiation he eventually succumbed to the dreaded melanoma and died on May 17, 1991.
The memories of Sir Philip linger on to remind us that if we are dedicated and determined to succeed we can do so regardless to the limitations that we may perceive that life has handed to us. To have ended his academic pursuits at thirteen years of age and still accomplish these outstanding business feats provide ample evidence of Sir Philip’s strength of character and determination to success. He has left a legacy that reflects the statement by Orrison Swett Marden who said that “Success is not measured by what a man accomplishes, but by the opposition he has encountered and the courage with which he has maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”