Roadside coconut vendors have hit back at BICO Executive Chairman Edwin Thirwell, who Tuesday questioned their hygiene practices and the quality of the water they sell.
In defence of the importation 900 cases of coconut water from Guyana, Thirlwell had argued that there was a shortage of high quality coconut water on the island, and that not everyone was satisfied with the hygiene practices of local roadside vendors.
“There are issues already with the health department over the hygiene practices of the roadside coconut vendors . . . there is a concern there, just the same as there is at Crop Over where people prepare the chicken and leave it out there in the warmers. There are food safety issues in there,” he said.
However, the vendors today challenged the businessman’s assertions about their health practices, telling Barbados TODAY they had been complying with state health certification requirements for food vending.
In addition, those involved in the lucrative local trade questioned the quality of imported coconut water, arguing that the nature of the liquid did not allow for long haul shipping without the use of preservatives.
“Coconut water is a thing that would go off in seven days in a fridge. So there is no way you can ship fresh coconut water from Guyana and it don’t go off. What we are selling is all natural and put in brand new bottles. What they are selling is not fresh. So you have to ask which one of us has the higher quality product,” said Marlon David, who operates with a group of four on the stretch of the ABC Highway near the Dome Mall in Warrens, St Michael.
“If you look at us we are dressed properly – the shirts might have a little stains but that is to be expected. The health department asked us to get health certificates and we all went by the polyclinic and got them.”
The coconut water traders also denied there had been a shortage of high quality coconut water on the island, as the BICO boss had contended.
They said they had been able to satisfy the market demands even during the dry season.
“ We don’t have any shortages. We have been able to supply the people of Barbados all year round. It is true that we would want farmers to grow more coconuts, but people don’t come to buy and leave empty handed. We have a bottle for everybody,” contended another vendor, who operates at Graeme Hall, Christ Church.
The local vendors were convinced that the importation of the refreshing drink was meant “to cut out the small businessman”.
However, they said this was nothing new, since they had been competing against canned coconut water for a long time.
“The supermarkets have been treating us well, and even though canned coconut water has been coming in for a while people still prefer to buy ours because it is cheaper and it is straight from the shell. So we are not really worried about that all because Bajans prefer our product,” a confident Marcus Wiltshire said.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society James Paul this week appealed to Barbadians not to support the imported product, while charging that “this reckless type of activity” was aimed at “sabotaging employment within a viable sector”.