Although its origins are not 100 per cent Barbadian, Banks Beer is synonymous with Barbados.
So much so, that the international award-winning brew, which came out of a pre-Independence Barbadian and Guyanese business partnership, may be considered an unofficial symbol of Barbados, in the same way as flying fish –– even though, in recent years, the latter have not been as plenåtiful in Barbados waters as before.
When the average Barbadian calls for a beer, he or she means a Banks –– exactly! For local beer lovers who demonstrate a passionate and unwavering loyalty to the brand, there is no other beer in the whole wide world like a Banks.
That’s how Banks maintained its market dominance, despite stiff competition from imported brands in recent years.
Even for non-nationals who have either visited Barbados briefly or lived here for some time, Banks Beer has a special meaning. Whenever theyåthe discussion.
It is therefore a cause of deep concern for many Barbadians that Banks Holdings Limited (BHL), the holding company for not only Banks Beer, but also other beverage products, is currently the subject of a takeover bid by a major foreign entity.
Behind the move is the St Lucian-registered company SLU Beverages Ltd. It is owned by AmBev SA, a Brazilian-based South American beverage conglomerate which, in turn, is controlled by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest brewer in the world with 25 per cent of the global market.
In a paid newspaper advertisement today, a group of concerned BHL shareholders raised a red flag about the takeover bid and appealed to other shareholders “to consider all the facts and options before making a decision on the sale of their shares” in response to the AmBev offer.
The concerned BHL shareholders are saying that, based on research into AmBev’s behaviour following previous takeovers, passing control of Banks to this company appeared to be a highly risky proposition that was neither in the economic interests of Barbados nor the Banks brand itself.
Quoting comments here by a senior company official, they said it seemed a major objective of AmBev was getting more of its Dominican Republic-produced Presidente Beer on to the regional market, and it appeared the takeover of Banks would serve as a springboard for achieving this objective whilst destroying the Banks brand.
The demise of Banks Beer, “with severe job losses”, would undoubtedly be a major blow for Barbados. At face value, Banks Beer is just another product manufactured in Barbados for sale locally and in export markets. However, for Barbadians, it means a lot more.
As an unofficial national symbol, it has hidden value which powerfully communicates meaning and has a profound influence on Barbadians at an emotional and psychological level. Banks Beer speaks to and represents Barbadian pride, success and accomplishment.
As an article in the Australasian Journal Of Psychology And Philosophy observes, “all symbols possess both a ‘face’ and a ‘hidden’ value, and it is one of the great achievements of psychology to have shown how the ‘hidden’ value is generally, from the point of view of function, the more important”.
Naturally, there are some people who will contend that selling Banks is no big deal, and that companies changing hands is something that occurs almost every day, reflecting the reality of liberalized markets in the 21st century context of globalization.
However, the issue has to be examined in a much broader context. In the last ten years, other powerful symbols of Barbadian business success, including the former Barbados National Bank, have also fallen into what most Barbadians would consider foreign hands, even though the owners reside in the Caribbean.
While we support inflows of investment, at the same time we have to acknowledge that it is not healthy for the psyche of people residing in a small country such as Barbados when they can no longer point to anything of significance and say “this is ours”. An inevitable consequence is the erosion of a people’s self-confidence.
The Banks episode again highlights the need for interventions –– and Government should take the lead in this regard –– to cultivate among Barbadians a habit of investing in productive enterprises, instead of depositing their earnings on the bank. Unless this occurs, foreign ownership in the economy will simply increase.
Whatever the outcome of the takeover bid, the foremost Barbadian consideration ought to be the survival and continued viability of the Banks brand. It is much too precious to Barbados not to be jealously safeguarded.