After more than a year of pleading with the Freundel Stuart-led administration for an ease in import duties, fast food chain Burger King seems no closer to getting a deal.
What is more, Burger King Director Everick Eastmond said that after five years of operation, government taxes are hampering the company’s chances of being more successful.
“It has not been a very smooth journey because some of the things that we wanted to have done by this stage, there were a lot of hurdles in our way,” said Eastmond, without going into detail.
“As you know we would have had challenges with import duties and all of these things,” he told the small gathering at the company’s five-year anniversary ceremony at the SkyMall, Haggatt Hall location this afternoon.
“We are really happy to be able to give to those who have stuck with us through this time and hopefully will stick with us and grow with us. The essential thing is growing with us. As I say, the challenges are still there. We would have liked to have been more successful so that you too can see it better in your pay packets. One of the things we have been fighting for, for some time, is for the powers that be to recognize that we are not a retail establishment,” said Eastmond.
The company has long been appealing to government to lower the whopper of a tax burden imposed on it almost a year-and-a-half ago.
It was at the beginning of September 2016 that the duties on some Burger King processed chicken products, including the famous chicken breast, patties and nuggets, which local producers could not supply, rose from 20 per cent to 102 per cent.
However, despite sourcing more of its products locally and increased calls from Burger King operators since then, Government has not budged.
Today Eastmond expressed confidence that the company would overcome those challenges, but insisted that the taxes be lowered since most of the products used in its operations are now sourced locally, while hinting that the company would like to make further investments in the local economy.
He said that if taxes were lower the company could have done more in the area of employment, as he recalled that a major reason for opening the fast food chain five years ago in Barbados was to help create job opportunities.
“When we first started we would have imported almost 95 per cent of everything, because we had to get it right the first time. But over time, I can tell you now, that majority of what we use in Barbados comes from indigenous business people and indigenous services.
However, he said while he understood why government would want to protect the local producers Burger King now “actually add about 65 per cent in value to whatever it is we bring in, which is a long cry from when we first started, and I think it is time we actually look to be separated form the retail crowd.
“So what burger king was five years ago is still on the outside, but a lot of the inputs come from indigenous labour and local suppliers,” insisted Eastmond.
He added that he was hoping “to get more people on board to supply the goods and services to really give Burger King a reflection of what Barbados is”. Eastmond also hinted at having some local delicacies added to the menu.
The company currently boasts six restaurants, hiring just over 150 people.
Lauding the staff for their commitment and contribution over the years, General Manager Ryan Walters urged them to keep up the good work and “continue to sail on strong enterprising and team spirit, taking on new challenges and exploring new opportunities along the way” as Burger King embarks on “big goals ahead”.
He suggested that a lot of people were skeptical about the company’s longevity in Barbados.
“More than six years ago Mr [Ralph Bizzy] Williams and the board of directors visualized the operation of Burger King restaurants in Barbados. I am proud to say we are here five years on, and I dare say, to the surprise of many,” said Walters.
“Though not an easy feat, over the five years we have built up a reputation as the leading QSRs (quick service restaurants] and fastest growing QSR in the market,” he added.
During the award ceremony, which took place immediately after a special church service at the St Barnabas Anglican Church, 25 of the staff members were awarded for being with the company since its inception here.